If you’re reading this many years after it was written in 2013, I’d urge you to read the comments. Some great learning (mostly mine) in the discussion.
If you’ve missed what this is all about, I suggest you either google Suzanne Moore/trans/twitter, or have a look at these links. I’m pretty sure there are plenty more.
Suzanne Moore’s New Statesman piece
Suzanne Moore’s Guardian response
Stavvers WordPress response
a Pink News response
So, a younger friend and colleague, asked me today if I thought she should agree to write a piece about some work she’s made – related to trans issues, made with trans people. And because of all the stuff that’s gone on with twitter this week – aka the Suzanne Moore thing – I wrote her this reply.
In writing it I realised I should be posting it.
Gah, well, with all the Suzanne Moore stuff I’d say no and make for the hills, keeping your head well down. I read the original article, I didn’t think the Brazilian trans comment was that big a deal – or at least, initially I didn’t think it was a big deal at all, I am a woman (I will not say cis-gendered*, that is someone else’s label, I choose not to use it, I choose to use the label woman and anyone who insists I use their label can piss off, like the binary lezzers who want to call me femme, again – their label, not mine. I choose to label myself as I wish, when I wish, not as other people – from any part of the spectrum, gender, sexual or political – want to label me), anyway, as a dyke/gay/working class/white/lesbian/woman of (very nearly!) nearly 50, brought up in this society I – and most women my age, Suzanne’s age – knew exactly what she meant when she said that.
The unattainable straight-male-desired body that many of us have seen (and loved) stunning trans-women with. Long legs, great tits, big hair. That thing I could never attain, don’t have the legs for it for a start. Let alone anything else. And that we have been told we must strive for, want, desire, work for, since we were little girls.
But then I saw the comments about murdered Brazilian transexuals and figured yes, that is a valid point, and perhaps it would be something I’d question for myself in future. It’s not a phrase I’d readily use anyway, most of my Brazilian friends are gay or lesbian, not trans – but I do know what Suzanne Moore meant, and I suspect many readers would, AND I also (now) understand why the upset. Stupid of me perhaps, but I don’t immediately equate the term ‘Brazilian transexual’ with the murder of transexuals. I will now.
BUT I will also equate someone using that term with a twitter storm, a media outrage and a load of nastiness. Coming from all round, all sides, and I read what I could bear to in the past few days, and then I stopped because I found it too much.
I do think there is a bigger fight to be had.
I do find the term ‘intersectionality’ to be both classist and educationalist – or rather, not the term itself, but the way the twitter fight had people using it as if everyone knew what they meant. Working class me, non-academic me, often finds those terms daunting, the ones so many people in so many political groups bandy about easily (and yes, I don’t live in the working class now, I work in the arts and have a fortunate – in some ways!!! – life, but I do still come from where and what I come from) and those terms, that tone of debate, especially when it gets very academic, not only shuts me out, but it also makes me feel badly educated, incapable of engaging, and stupid.
I do think the right adore the left in-fighting and they have always adored it and they always will. Because it is our in-fighting, our passion, our huge upset about the things of our hearts and our souls, that lets them get away with what they’re doing. And right now, even while acknowledging the vital power of language and that it can hurt and it definitely matters, I honestly do think that our efforts need to be concentrated on the enemy without – right now, this current government – rather than the real and/or perceived enemy/enemies ‘within’.
And I really want to say all this publicly. And I’d love to put it on my blog. But, in truth, I’m scared to, because I don’t want to be the subject of attack. Like anyone else, I want to be understood, I want to be heard and yes – I admit it – I want to be liked. I’m human, I have no desire to be villified. I’m not sure I understand those people who do enjoy that, who want to be the object of other people’s discussion and anger.
So what this debate has done, which I’m sure – again, the right must love – is that it has made me (and you, because this is why you asked if you should write something) wonder if we should speak up at all.
I know that I, for one, will be much less likely to mention trans at all, in any context, because the upset and anger over ‘getting it wrong’ (and it does seem there are some varying reactions, so this too is subjective) is too painful. And so we shut up. And nothing is said. And that’s really depressing.
(nb, I was asked recently how I felt about straight people writing gay people, I said I’d rather they did it than not, I’d rather we were mentioned than ignored, that I will always make mistakes as a writer, I cannot have had every life, every experience, and I’m sure other writers will make mistakes too – I’d rather they tried and had LGBT people in their writing, even if not ‘correctly’ presented, than pretended we didn’t exist at all.)
And even in writing this answer to you, I feel it could, should, be a blog.
Because the problem now is that, far from opening up debate and discussion, the furore has made me – the only person I know to have written a lovely, loving, sympathetic trans character (who wasn’t a serial killer!!) AND almost 20 years ago! – feel like I can’t mention trans issues or people at all or I will be told I’ve got it all wrong and have no right to speak/write.
Ah fuck it, maybe this IS my blog …
ps – I REALLY would be grateful to anyone who chooses to comment here, or on twitter, facebook, elsewhere, to please use your real name (if you can do so without threat to yourself or your loved ones).
I use my real name on facebook and twitter and here. Suzanne Moore uses hers – many of her critics have used theirs, but very many have not. Real names are good, they let us fully stand up for what we are putting out. And they help us make sure we’re saying what we really want to be saying. What we want to be known for saying.
edited to add : thank you all for these comments, yay, nay and in between. I’m trying to approve them as they come, but there was a bit of a backlog, so forgive me if I take a while. I’m especially grateful to queeriodical for the great cis explanation. I still think it’s up to each of us, individually or collectively (if people want to), to use whichever labels we choose for ourselves, not for others to put labels on us, but it’s a great explanation and the first time I’ve read anything that helped me understand how useful it is as a term. thank you.
*I’m adding this asterisk in 2018 when I now feel fine using cis for myself and other people using it of me. The comments to this blog (PLEASE read them, they’re really interesting, and many helped me think more/differently/deeper, about some things I thought I had thought and about some things very new to me). I wrote this blog about that. I’m keen on my thinking growing and changing, I’m keen on us all supporting each other to do so. And I’m especially keen on a diverse, inclusive LGBTQ+ that is for all of us.
Thank you for verbalising what I cannot – I don’t have the words, and I’m grateful to you for having them for me. In the great clash of political correctness many of us ‘ordinary folk’ feel excluded (as you point out) because we don’t feel we have the education/language to comment in a way that will not cause offence to someone, somewhere – regardless of how good our intentions are. As a mid 50s lesbian who was brought up in rural churchified Ireland I feel I know about oppression, and being made to feel not just different but less, it’s a shame I can’t be part of this great surge in human freedom because I am afraid of putting a foot wrong and offending someone or inadvertently making them feel as I did 30 years ago.
Ergo I apologise in advance for any mistakes made here 🙂
When you read Suzanne Moore on anything you knew what you were getting , We only asked for Fair Play and the Truth and Suzanne gave us it in Spades , Shame on the Morons who Hounded her and Shame on us for allowing it . Great Blog Miss Stella more power to you and all writers writing writers !
I am a trans man and I was delighted to read this. I had lots of discussions over that matter these days and my position was always the same: I was NOT offended. I wasn’t offended because I understand how she said what she said, I understand why she doesn’t want to apologize. It wasn’t meant maliciously (and, seriously now, it’s even praise…).
I’ve read discussions under links on social media and I was sad to see that my fellow trans folk don’t get it. It’s like fearing too eagerly that someone’s going to attack you, so you’re coiled like a snake as to rapidly attack them back, as soon as the word “trans” is uttered. I know, I can be like that, but I grit my teeth and THINK before I act or say anything. Why did they say that? What did they mean? Chances I got it wrong?
I am very disappointed over this. Very.
But I was happy to read your post. Thank you.
yes, that. thank you Mags.
Excellent blog. I’m really glad you shared this.
thank you so much for saying so.
My name is Georgina Newson and I am a heterosexual woman living in rural isolation with a man who I married 35 years ago and I am the first to admit to living a sheltered life that has been, with one major exception, secure and privileged. I thank you, applaud you, and admire you for your courage, openness, honesty, breadth of vision and awareness, your loving attitude and your acceptance of humanity in all its flavours. Write on please as your voice is valid, interesting, has integrity, and speaks to me of hope in sanity and acceptance.
Thank you Stella for this. I share your thoughts and concerns. As an academic I find intersectionality a useful concept, and so do many of my students. Useful as tool to understandi the complexity of lives, identities, oppressions, not as a weapon or a silencing technique; that is a misuse and I am sure Kimberley Crenshaw, who developed it, would cringe at its use in that way. Liz Kelly
This is post is just so right.
I’m 16 and am only now venturing into of what I’ve seen recently to be the very dark world of feminism and feminist writing. I only had to a quick search on tumblr (unfortunately timed, mid caitmo rage) to
absolutely make myself want to poo with fear.
It’s just great that I can listen to the idea of feminism being ripped to shreds by male teenage friends during the day and then see feminists ripping each other to shreds on the internet in the evening. It in bitching reminds me of being back in my all-girls high school, it’s of the same level of maturity. At least in high school the adults came along and made the children talk to each other to sort it out…
And I agree, everywhere I go I’m faced with the phrase internationality which is so fantastically confusing on wikipedia (if you can’t copy and paste off wiki and not understand it enough to pass it off as you’re own work then it’s challenging and you should probably do your homework properly.) that it’s a term that is so elitist in it’s academic-ness it seems to really be defeating it’s purpose of being all inclusive?
I’m starting to think intersectionality and privilege were invented by the patriarchy. Those two concepts inspire more sustained anger than anything being done to systematically deprive women of their rights. And yet the target of the anger is always someone who is fighting for equality for women.
But it’s not about something that person (usually a woman) has DONE but something they’ve written. And it’s very rarely about the substance of their argument, but their choice of words. As though semantics is the big issue facing women.
Some of the outrage is so disproportionate to the crime, the attackers come off sounding, like Alex Jones on CNN. Great way to turn women away from feminism!
It’s all so counter-productive. And at it’s core I think it’s narcissistic. Ultimately, these attacks are about the egos of the attackers. They feel know more about feminism and are more right-on than this person who gets paid to speak on these issues, so they think that gives them the right to be nasty and write off everything their target has ever said.
In the end the only winner is the patriarchy. I’m with you, Stella. We should be directing our anger at the people who are robbing our daughters of the right to free education and free health care. Of a financially independent future. The people who are allowing rape to go unpunished. Not women who are fighting for our rights.
I thought there were several uneasy moments in the Moore (eg why not speak up at the IDS lunch, and why not grant that almost alone among politicos he has made a serious study of deprivation?). But I am with you on the in fighting. And BTW my own novel Passing Go has a sympathetic trans lead character!!’
thank you Ellie Turner. I really hope that your generation of young women – young people – can overcome my generations predisposition to in-fighting.
I felt a sense of relief reading this. Thank you.
thank you Libby. and hurrah for more sympathetic trans characters!
Great, nuanced response. I was talking to someone of different generation and I think we are all often missing each others’ points and misunderstanding each others’ pain, because we don’t realise how we have touched a nerve, and all the pain and oppression behind that. We are responding to triggers, rather than what was said.
For example, people who are involved in trans politics and activism, who go to transgender day of remembrance and hear hundreds of names all of the trans women in Brazil that have been murdered that year (usually about half of them all) and are aware of the quite uniquely dangerous situation these women live in, will make that connection and find it insensitive to comment on them in such a way. Without that context, the reaction may be baffling, and people may reasonably wonder why trans activists are so quick to associate it with murder, but given that context, it becomes more unstandable how it touches on a deeper pain.
Likewise, as you say, Suzanne’s response was may have seemed overly indignant to people who are unaware of the context whereby she has had her femininity and identity as a woman challenged and even considered lesser than male appropriation and performance of femininity, and this being valued more. Whilst this is not what trans women are, nevertheless it hurts because it is about touching on an underlying trigger. So whilst to younger people, her exasperation at apparently having her feminist views as a woman dismissed may appear as gratuitously asserting her woman credentials due to not being trans and that is transphobic, they likewise don’t see how she was responding to a deeper and more long term oppression.
I think there were rights and wrongs on both sides, but the levels of mutual incomprehension and anger were due to fundamentally misunderstanding what people were reacting to and drawing on, on both sides.
* p.s. on ‘cis’, it isn’t a slur, for example, like ‘breeder’ is for straights, but more the equivalent of ‘heterosexual’, where once there was simply ‘homosexual’ and ‘normal’ – just an equal and opposite word, for when a distinction needs to be made. It’s not so much an identity as such, as ‘femme’ would be, but more a description of an experience. It was coined as whilst most trans women would equally simply prefer ‘women’, if in a specific conversation you need to make a distinction between the two, there are no other ways that aren’t marginalising – e.g. ‘normal woman’, ‘proper woman’.as these suggest trans women aren’t normal or proper too. It just means ‘not trans’, but is on an equal semantic level, neither defined in negation to one another.
Haven’t we learned by now that Divide and Conquer is the oldest trick in the book? Don’t castigate the good people for speaking up. Don’t critique their grammar or punish them for an insult that they did not even infer. Look to the message people. Look to the big picture. Don’t use the little stuff as a way to roar on twitter and feel powerful. Go shout at someone who is punching a hole in the boat, not someone who is pointing at dry land.
Solidarity. Equality. Common sense folks. Stop being silly.
Thanks Suzanne and Stella for speaking up. Draw strength from the fact that you are supported, and you are speaking sense.
I’ve said this on Suzanne’s comments page too. I don’t think she was being vicious, and I do think we should be allowed to try to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and be able to comment on things / situations that we have not experienced ourselves. As a fiction writer, I have to do that. Without that we could not develop empathy in our daily life.
The twitter storm seemed to be saying that we are not allowed to think of a Brazilian transexual without thinking of a murdered Brazilian transexual? If so that’s just plain daft.
Thank you so much! Since the US election and the anti-women comments made by mainstream candidates I have grown more and more frustrated that men feel able to make decisions about my body. Reading Suzanne’s article was the first time I had found someone sharing my anger but the reaction showed how easily such passion can be undermined and dismissed making constructive protest that bit harder. I don’t want special treatment, I want respect for me who happens to be female. It has reignited the political animal in me but the challenge is participating without being turned on from within. This is becoming a speech so I’d best stop!!
A welcome viewpoint; as a transsexual I did not find the words particulary malicious- clumsy at best but the manner in which a hardcore of trans/femme activists piled in & slung mud about did no service to either responding to the original remarks or engaging a the wider audience to genuine concerns. I hope that it has highlighted their has for some time been a problem with a certain clique of individuals who time and again stamp about with a slightly odd, monolithic viewpoint & enemies at every turn. So much great work, bonds, relationships exist amongst trans people and British society; yes issues remain, challenges to be addressed but we do so with dialogue, wit and enlightened words even to those who show us none.
Don’t normally do responses but am in awe of the honesty, fairness and quiteness of this piece. I suppose it’s also because It reflects precisely what I have felt about it all and my thought process and struggle and rage and fear and then sadness. Really admire you. Thank you for sharing.
Absolutely spot on Stella. Thank you. That is all.
I find this trope of “I’m scared to publish this because I think I’ll be attacked” thing really troubling. Because it smacks of, “you see what you’re done? Are you sorry now?” As if there aren’t also so many people of colour and trans people and sex workers and whoever else is today’s group of people it’s OK to casually insult or exclude in pursuit of the Bigger Feminist Goal, who are also feeling too scared and beleagured to post. But nobody notices when they drop off Twitter, and they don’t get to write for national newspapers decrying infighting or the politics of Twitter.
And there is no organised mob here, there are just a bunch of individual hurt people, many of whom are fans and agreed with every word of the original article until the got to the but that felt like a slap in the face and a big old statement of THIS AIN’T FOR YOU, YOU’RE NOT INCLUDED. Most of those people said nothing and just swallowed it quietly and went away feeling sad. Some of those people politely said, hey, could you not, would you mind not – Some of them jumped straight in with insults. Some of them that had started out politely lost their rag when the response was dismissive and sarcastic. But it’s not organised, or groupthink, or a dogpile – it’s just the logic of when you have a platform that reaches hundreds of thousands and one percent of your audience is upset by what you wrote and says so. I can’t see the logic of saying that those people shouldn’t have done. You can’t nominate a spokesperson.
(Also, like, it’s SUZANNE MOORE. I am sure she is genuinely upset and I’m not claiming she’s Ms Invincible, but, like, her schtick for the past fifteen years has been that she’s the biggest, baddest, mouthiest kid on the block with the most to be angry about, and she’s sure as hell not going to shut up and make tea whilst the men on the left define The Real Enemy. But when people are angry with her, that’s somehow illegitimate and they should keep quiet in service to The Bigger Truth? I do not get that.)
Not so much ‘not allowed to think of’, but more understand why that particular comment might trigger a particular, very real hurt as it could be construed as trivialising, but of course it isn’t, or not intentionally, if one does not know that context.
I suppose I’m tempted fate by saying this, but I think your concerns are almost entirely misplaced, Stella. I’m not trans, but I write about trans issues from time to time and I’ve never been particularly worried about saying something wrong. Why? I think because I’m doing my best to write from a position of respect and empathy, as indeed I think you have done here. If I get something wrong and a trans person objects to my language or logic I listen and try to learn (without necessarily having to agree 100%)
I’ve always been a fan of Suzanne, and swapped friendly tweets with her occasionally, so this I want to be on her side. I also thought the offensiveness of the original line was pretty minimal, but like you I could just about see the perspective of the complainants too.
But what Suzanne tweeted after that, when she got angry, was overtly, gratuitously offensive to trans people and to anyone who cares about trans people, and I don’t believe for a moment that she didn’t know it – she deliberately ramped up the temperature of the argument, and a good few of those posts are simply indefensible by anyone with a passing awareness of the issues..
So, and apologies for this analogy, but this blog really reminds of the reactions of the neanderthal right when the Richard Littlejohns of the world say really overtly offensive things about gay and lesbian people, then when they get an angry response say “SEE! This just proves you can’t have a rational discussion with these people!”
Trans people, like all people, contain their share of lovely people and nasty people, angry vicious people, gentle, compassionate people and everything in between. And like all people, if you talk to them or about them with respect and interest, most of them will respond with respect and patience.
If you speak to them with gross disrespect and insult, you’re likely to get the same back.
I love it. I agree entirely with what you said. I might not have thrown lighter fluid on the fire the way Suzanne Moore did but I do, seriously, worry when a writer can’t use a descriptive & accurate phrase in context (I totally got the picture of non-realistic female ideal she meant immediately) without a tiny clique of interested parties bullying & billy dying her. I had no idea of the murder of trans people in Brazil. Lots of people are murdered there for many reasons. Lots of trans people, gay people, people who are in the wrong place or time or body are murdered every day. That’s not the point. I’m saddened to learn of them. I’m even sadder to see the ‘left’ dividing, devouring itself in an effort to be more right on & inclusive & inoffensive & say absolutely nothing relevant to anyone in case someone, somewhere feels hurt. Imagine if I got angry every time someone used the word ‘icon’ or ‘Orthodox’ about something other than the icons I paint. Oh wait, maybe I should?! No. I’m a grown up. Trans people are grown ups. I’ve seen the Lady Boys of Bangkok flutter their lashes, wiggle their beautiful lithe & cellulite free behinds in the face of confused heterosexual men & realised that I will never reach that false ideal of womanhood. Does that mean I’m guilty of whatever the hell ‘intersectionality’ means? No.
Thank you for a voice of reason – real name used.
you’ve voiced a lot of my discomfort with the whole issue too.
I have put an inordinate amount of work into not just L (which I am), but also G, B & T over the years but this shit, this “intersectionality” excluding academic dogma bollox is enough to send me running for the hills too.
There is a venom at the core of this internet bashing that is volcanic, manipulative and disingenuous.
Thank you for writing this. I too, wanted to write a response but didn’t have the courage of my convictions! For that I am ashamed. The article you refer to by Suzanne was written without malice. ‘We’ and I use the term loosely, could have encouraged educated debate, but no, another media/social networking storm ensued. I, for one, am glad that you have stuck your head above the parapet, for all the right reasons. Please keep writing and keep inspiring. Alanna
Excellently put, sums up the whole thing brilliantly. I am fairly new to twitter and have found myself desparing many times in the past couple of weeks that so much hatred can be poured onto one individual, just for expressing a viewpoint. Thank goodness for blogs such as this which seek to redress the balance.
Stella thank you for your eloquent personal comment on this topic. I like that you spoke from the “i”. So powerful.
I understand that “intersectionality” is LOL. And it is very complicated term for people to bandy about as a weapon of knowledge rather than using plain speaking. Which is kinda necessary to do in 140 characters.
I have tried to read everything and found it distressing. Distressing because Suzanne Moore is an ally of LGBT people. If it wasn’t for Suzanne I could not have afforded to make my film Stud Life as she was one of the generous backers on IndieGoGo and has always been supportive of the film which is a genderqueer film which was cast with transmen and transwomen and all other genders and sexualities and all with a multicultural flavor.
How can we have proper debate these days without silencing each other with scary words – racist, transphobic, femmephobic, misogynistic etc etc? How can we learn from each other?
How do we dissect trigger words or the experience of triggering from people we immediately think may be the enemy, because of their race, class, gender, able bodied etc etc privilege. We are our own enemy when we splinter into smaller and smaller groups of comfort looking suspiciously at “outsiders”
I wish we had more discussion face to face with listening and care, with the knowledge that we are on the same side.
And maybe I am waiting for pigs to fly. Heh!
Excellent post and I hope it doesn’t get too much anger directed at it.
My problem when someone (usually on Twitter) says ‘check your privilege’ is that it immediately shuts down all debate, most of which could be constructive. Most people are generally good folk, they don’t say something to offend and if they ‘get it wrong’ telling them to check their privilege feels like a snooty way of shutting them up. Yes, I think we all need to improve our awareness of other groups and think about whether what we’re doing/saying will offend them. However, those groups need to engage with us.
Generalisations help nobody, nor does shutting down any conversation in case it offends. We’re all individuals. I mean, I identify as a bisexual woman. I’m currently in a long term relationship with a man but I’m hoping to publish lesbian fiction: I wonder if I’m going to be allowed to get away with that given how hostile people can be!
fab blog…will comment more later 🙂
Oh, I like this on so many levels. I was born into a very much working class family and have had a late academic background; having gone back to ‘school’ when I was in my late 30s and I feel i understand your perspective. I had to look up cis and intersectionality. The latter being surely just an acknowledgement that we all have different experiences and cannot understand everybody’s reality. I would object to not being able to voice my opinions on something though, just because I don’t live it. I read, only recently that it’s about accepting your own privilege. Are the people using this academic language doing that? Aren’t they forgetting their academic privilege when not explaining what it is? My wife was saying just the same thing as you, Stella, that this makes her feel unable to take part in the debate. I don’t have a problem with what Suzanne Moore said. Whilst I too believe in the power of language – I have a Masters in English – sometimes we get so lost in trying to get our language right that we forget about the people behind it all and we alienate those who may have been our friends. For example I think we are far too quick to label people phobic just because they don’t say the right things. `it feels like no one s allowed to make a mistake; never mind grow and change their opinions. I am aware that people are oppressed in any different ways and I except my privilege as a Western white female with an education but please let’s not stifle debate. Let’s not make people scared to have opinions because they don’t agree with ours. That’s not to say I am going to spout freedom of speech as a mantra. I am aware it’s a qualified right. But I do think we are in danger of losing sight of what needs changing, who we need to be fighting and what really matters – but that’s just my opinion. My name is Jane Anderson-Hawkes and I am very happy to stand up and be counted.
Speaking as someone from the trans community, I found her comments no more or less offensive than the people who then attempted to make an issue out of it for all the wrong reasons.
Transexuals in Brazil are as unique as Ladyboys in Thailand. I suspect if she had just said ‘Ladyboy’, everyone would have had a unique image of a Thai transgendered person.
Firstly, Transexuas have a place in society which is quite unique when compared to almost any country. Because of their marginalized existence, they have their own social culture.
Secondly, the ideal image attained in transition for a Transexual woman in Brazil is stylistic to their country. They are not unique, but since their is a cosmetic procedures called “Brazilian Butt Lift”, and it’s one of the few places where they inject the fat into hips, it’s fair to say that their shape can arguably be called ‘Brazilian’. For those girls who are from outside of Brazil who support this shape, it is fair to consider they went there to get the procedure.
Someone pointing out that there are Transexuals murdered in Brazil isn’t a valid argument for making the term less relevant. The fact that they are singled out is testament to the fact they live as Transexuals, not as women. In countries such as the UK we don’t allow Transexuals in society at all. If you’re a transexual then you must fit into the binary acceptable classification of male or female. Transgender models are also doing very well in Brazil.
So therefore the idea that we should expunge the term “Brazilian Transexual” to someone in the transgender community is just a bit offensive. It implies that all transgenders around the world have similar issues, have the same work done, and live in the same social structure. They are their own unique community, and should be recognised for their individuality.
The only article I read which I had no problem with was Jane Carnall’s for LGBT. There were a few points that she made lacking some information, especially “the simple solution” for gender dysphoria, because there isn’t one really. However, Jane’s complaint was simply that “This might have been phrased better. It’s true she used a stereotype, but it was a positive and culturaly embraced stereotype. The problem was really in the casual and negative way in which Moore used it.
For a transgendered person, the term itself evokes ideas of culturally specific transition surgery and sexual identity. Therefore when the term “Brazilian Transexual” is accused of being transphobic or racist, believe me, I, and other transgender girls I know, were not happy about it.
It’s a valid and significant variation in the worldwide transgender community.
I didn’t follow it in real time, but I did see responses from Suzanne Moore quoted including:
“I dont prioritise this fucking lopping bits of your body over all else that is happening to women Intersectional enough for you?”
“People can just fuck off really. Cut their dicks off and be more feminist than me. Good for them.”
I’m sure she was provoked. However… Maybe it’s my privilege, but this confuses me. If someone on the left were being criticised by members of an ethnic minority for insensitivity, even if some of that criticism were very angry or unconstructive, it would seem like basic self-preservation would argue for not going straight for stereotyped racial characteristics in the response.
Not just because it would be offensive, but because it would very clearly cross a line. So, even in the face of provocation, I don’t get why someone would think it was sensible to go for this as a go-to insult against trans women, regardless of the provocation felt from a tiny subset of that group.
Likewise, I don’t think you need to be be too familiar with the concept of intersectionality (although I think it’s fair for the commenters addressing Suzanne Moore directly in her twitter stream to assume that a leading public feminist with an academic background _would_) to be aware that mocking people for having “cut their dicks off” is probably not the most sensible way to calm down an exchange of views, or show reasonable interlocutors that you are interested in having a reasoned discussion.
As happens so often, the initial flub seemed pretty minor, and then the doubling down on it basically made it impossible for it to end well.
And, again based on limited information, it seems like a work addressing trans issues, made with trans people, is likely not to get the same response as telling trans people that the thing that defines them, and the insult that it’s OK to go to in an argument with them, is that they have cut off their genitals.
I’m uncomfortable with the idea that we shouldn’t pick our allies up on problematic language or thinking because our enemies will like it – firstly, because it just sounds like the worst sort of tribalism and “my country, right or wrong”. Secondly, but probably more importantly, almost all my knowledge of transphobia, ableism, cultural appropriation and so on has come from discussions in the social justice areas I was already interested in, like feminism and gay rights. If all dialogue within those areas is shut down to avoid the right laughing at “leftie splitters”, that kind of almost peripheral education won’t happen.
I’d be a lot happier asking people to respond thoughtfully and reasonably to criticism than asking them to refrain from criticising things in the first place.
(I’ve signed in under this pseud because there’s a lot more online accountability with it than with my “real” name.)
I’m glad someone has picked up on Moore’s responses – which were when I went to look at the original article to find out what the hell had started all this off.
I’m afraid when someone starts throwing things like “I don’t believe in transphobia” and equating transsexualism to lopping your bits off, I stop thinking they’re on my side, and start thinking they really need to educate themselves.
Also, there’s *always* bigger things going on. When would it suit you for cisgendered feminists to start looking at what may be their own transphobia? We’ve had 30 years since the 80’s…
Anybody who feel unsure or worried about speaing publicly on trans issues should drop us a line at Trans Media Watch. We appreciate that most people want to get it right – to produce material which is accurate and treats trans people with dignty and respect – and we’re here to help. We won’t be angry with you for not knowing everything to begin with. We won’t insist on trying to speak for everyone. We will explain sensitivities around language and help you to understand the science and the personal dynamics involved. Whilst we regularly work with large organisations like the BBC and Channel 4, we’re also happy to help individual journalists and bloggers. We also provide support on intersex issues.
I think everyone has a right to live the life they choose. Also the right to express an opinion. Trendy terms, and language, change so quickly that unless we are in the loop we have no way of knowing what is permitted, what offensive. I agreed with.Suzanne Moore’s article. Even if I hadn’t, I would have defended her right to say what she did. Language should be the path to understanding. Instead it seems to have become a fence separating one group from another. Unless we can say what we mean without offence being taken at our terminology, there is no hope for equality and understanding.
I so want to hit “like” for many of these comments. Lucy Brown is spot on with her grumble about privilege! It all begins to sound like Monty Python’s “Four Yorkshiremen” sketch: people vying to tell us how their experiences have been worse than everyone else’s, when they don’t actually know what any of us have been through.
There are some sensible people on the internet after all.
Thank you for writing this. I appreciate your points, but I disagree. Specifically, I disagree when you say:
“I honestly do think that our efforts need to be concentrated on the enemy without not – right now, this current government – rather than the real and/or perceived enemy/enemies ‘within’”
Last year, there was some debate around lefty rapists and rape apologists. There was (/is) a large section of the left who seemed content to sweep women’s issues under the rug in order to stand by their heroes. The only difference here is that your hero is a transphobe, not a misogynist. Is that not as important?
Yes, thank you – very well argued ( actually – that’s probably the wrong word, with all the wrong connotations – but you know what I mean ). I read the original article, I understood the nuance of reference in the context of the whole – and left it at that. Alas – Twitter, at 140 characters leaves no room for context, tone of voice or explanation – so it’s no wonder it quickly descends to name calling, bullying and histrionics. What came next was just depressing. I think many of us have a justifiable anger inside us of one kind or another – but we need to learn how to direct it, and nobody is really listening in cyberspace, not really.
Enjoyed reading the blog, will continue.
Great piece – you have a good view from that parapet. bell hooks’s writing on intersectionality has been bandied about by those who were offended by Suzanne Moore’s writing and tweets in the last two days. In a 2009 interview titled How To Practice Intersectionality” she said: ” Intersectionality allow us to focus on what is most important at a given point in time. I used to say to people, if you’re in a domestic situation where the man is violent, patriarchy and male domination—even though you understand it intersectionally—you focus, you highlight that dimension of it, if that’s what is needed to change the situation. I think that, again, if we move away from either/or thinking, and if we think, okay, every day of my life that I walk out of my house I am a combination of race, gender, class, sexual preference and religion or what have you, what gets foregrounded? I think it’s crazy for us to think that people don’t understand what’s being foregrounded in their lives at a given point in time. Like right now, for many Americans, class is being foregrounded like never before because of the economic situation. It doesn’t mean that race doesn’t matter, or gender doesn’t matter, but it means that right now in many people’s lives, in the lives of my own family members, people are losing jobs, insurance. I was teasing my brother that he was penniless, homeless, jobless. Right now in his life, racism isn’t the central highlighting force: it’s the world of work and economics. It doesn’t mean that he isn’t influenced by racism, but when he wakes up in the morning the thing that’s driving his world is really issues of class, economics and power as they articulate themselves.
I guess I wish we could talk about: what does it mean to have a politics of intersectionality that also privileges what form of domination is most oppressing us at a given moment in time.”
http://commonstruggle.org/bellhooks Which I think is what Moore was saying when she said intersectionality was getting in the way of the main issue at the moment, not that it wasn’t important- just that we all need to fight the cuts affecting women together. I hope she comes back to Twitter. We need her. I am a single mother, a feminist and a postgraduate student.
For anyone who is really worried about the big, academic words that people use, bear in mind that most of the people using them don’t really know what they mean either. They just figure if they use them confidently, no-one will pull them up on it.
I think Moore was wrong to use the expression in the way that she did. I haven’t seen all the criticism of her, but from what I’ve heard, the criticism was far worse than the original mistake. I really wish that everyone could learn to disagree and discuss, without the need for vitriol. It’s hard enough in real life but with the distance and anonymity afforded by the internet, it seems impossible.
Perhaps we should all apply some kind of test. Think of someone you like and respect. Then, before you post something on the internet, ask yourself if the person you respect would continue to respect you, if they knew what you’d just written. If the answer is ‘no’ then don’t say it.
I think it was really the comment on Twitter about cutting things off that really threw petrol on the fire. At that point IMHO Suzanne should have apologised for a comment made in anger. Instead she chose to tough it out. She lost the plot. Lost the argument and now Twitter has lost an interesting and articulate voice. Having said all that Suzanne Moore did not deserve abuse. Nastiness has won.
When I found out I was losing my job, Suzanne was there. When I found out I had been drug raped Suzanne was there. When I tried to kill myself Suzanne was there. All in private, not all publicly joyfully showing off her caring side on her timeline to show EVERYBODY that she cared. In private. We have met a few times and I regard her as a close friend. I learned through my own clouded experiences that she is very worldly. The sort of lady you would trust to grasp your weakening fingers when everybody close to you had failed.
Imagine that for a moment.
So I am friend biased, but whilst everybody is insistent on chucking in new trendy terms I’m having friend biased. That’s mine.
I’ve never had to be saved, and never thought that sort of crap would crop into my life, but when it did, she was there.
She isn’t privileged. She isn’t better than you. What she does have is a heart. A massive fucking heart, and a mind that has seen more changes than the underground in rush hour. And she’s forever learning. Like any trapped animal, she tried not to close down like Caitlin was forced to recently ( for the record she is flawed too, but that’s not this thread) she replied, she got well pissed off, and she went. I’d have done far worse with the persistence and desire to have you deleted from cyber life.
People kill themselves over silly stuff. It’s only silly when it’s not you.
I like flawed people. Don’t pretend you are not flawed.
Stop STOP fighting with the good people. Call bullshit, but just stop. Writing two blogs IN ONE DAY and sending them to your followers is nothing but harassment.
I have nothing more to say.
Measured, considered responses to an articulate and empathetic blog. Makes me dare to think that sanity and humanity does prevail online after all. Thank you one and all.
I completely agree with Richard’s comment- people have to learn that twitter is absolutely the wrong medium to use to disagree with someone. If you have something to say, go away, calm down for a few hours then write a piece about it.Or a blog post.
I do, however, also have great belief in the power of just saying sorry if you’ve offended someone, whether it was unintentional as it seems to have been here, or not. It is terrifyingly easy to say something that offends someone these days, but also very easy to say sorry.
To me the furore just proves Suzanne Moore’s point about female anger always being the thng that is supressed – in this case by something totally unrelated (transexual issues). The feminist argument is almost always put to the bottom of the agenda by something, and when it is a liberal or left wing issue then it totally clouds the issue with the result that everything that isn’t right wing gets lumped together and it weakens feminist points. Can we just concentrate on her fantastic point please? This has made me angry. We need to name things that are not right or fair for women – that women are villified far too often in the media among many other unfair issues right now – and keep describing and saying when and we need people like her to say it so well.
Reblogged this on Sharongooner's Blog.
Hi, I linked to this article on my blog post – http://rosewillan.wordpress.com/ – I hope you don’t mind! I’ve posted about the Suzanne Moore issue but also about ‘trolling’ as a whole, as I was already writing a piece about ‘trolling’ when I found out about this issue. I noticed comments from a ‘Mike Buchanan’ after the said article. Following on from these comments would lead you to an anti-feminist blog called ‘Fighting Feminism’. Surely challenging these sort of views would be of more interest to groups on either side of this argument, rather than continuing to fight over 2 words? That’s just my opinion anyway, as everyone is entitled to theirs.
If anyone could take the time to read my post and let me know what you think, constructive criticism is welcomed as I’ve just started, but no ‘trolling’ please 🙂
“I do think the right adore the left in-fighting and they have always adored it and they always will. Because it is our in-fighting, our passion, our huge upset about the things of our hearts and our souls, that lets them get away with what they’re doing. And right now, even while acknowledging the vital power of language and that it can hurt and it definitely matters, I honestly do think that our efforts need to be concentrated on the enemy without not – right now, this current government – rather than the real and/or perceived enemy/enemies ‘within’.”
I’m sorry but I don’t buy that argument at all. Re-read Stavvers blog and you will realise the only person who was arguing, using ableist language and shutting down debate was Suzanne Moore. I followed the Twitter storm with great interest. A vast majority of people commentating were offering valuable and rational critique.
Moore was called out for a remark that became a punchline in article, her Twitter remarks were far more offensive.
Of course, when you are on a platform, you have access to a large audience, I can imagine the innumerable amount of tweets she receives. However, she merely cried “troll” to shut down the debate and rally the left commentariat to close rank. You can selectively choose the most negative abuse and any legitimate critique is white noise.
I’m not Moore’s biggest fan, I find her articles on multiculturalism, the EDL and Breivik offensive.
Telling people to ‘fuck off’ is not a sensible tool to debate. I really don’t think she was provoked into saying these comments. They are merely a reflection of her prejudices.
Reblogged this on LucyFurLeaps.
Well, speaking as someone firmly on the Right, who views most Lefties theorising and particularly identity politics as fruitless nonsense, it’s nice to see some appreciation of the veritable whirlwind of up your own backsidery that will inevitably come from these colliding, and contested, identities.
But I’m not here just to mock – I’d say three things: the first being that the Right traditionally and perhaps instinctively sticks up for the individual against the mob – Susanne Moore was harried and abused,from all sides and if she reacted with anger, who can be surprised? So regardless of her argument, being screamed down surely wins no prizes. The second is that of course the Right finds this infighting amusing, but also scary. We see the rage you direct against your own, and can’t help but be reminded of the usual pattern of Leftists in power – purges and death camps. It reminds us that there’s something wrong with an ideology that generates such murderous rage over such minor issues.
The third, is that today. we learn that baby girls are being aborted in the UK in large numbers, *because* they are girls, and yet all the Feminists seem concerned about is this narcissistic tripe – and this ‘trans tribe’ may be the most narcissistic of the bunch. Not a word in the Guardian about the abortion story, not a word on the BBC. Don’t you people feel your priorities may be a little skewed? Oh, and it’s not David Cameron who’s aborting your sisters y’know.
I find this trope of “I’m scared to publish this because I think I’ll be attacked” thing really troubling. Because it smacks of, “you see what you’re done? Are you sorry now?” As if there aren’t also so many people of colour and trans people and sex workers and whoever else is today’s group of people it’s OK to casually insult or exclude in pursuit of the Bigger Feminist Goal, who are also feeling too scared and beleagured to post. But nobody notices when they drop off Twitter, and they don’t get to write for national newspapers decrying infighting or the politics of Twitter.
And there is no organised mob here, there are just a bunch of individual hurt people, many of whom are fans and agreed with every word of the original article until the got to the but that felt like a slap in the face and a big old statement of THIS AIN’T FOR YOU, YOU’RE NOT INCLUDED. Most of those people said nothing and just swallowed it quietly and went away feeling sad. Some of those people politely said, hey, could you not, would you mind not – Yes, some of them jumped straight in with insults, but the overwhelming majority started out politely lost their rag when the response was dismissive and sarcastic. But it’s not organised, or groupthink, or a dogpile – it’s just the logic of when you have a platform that reaches hundreds of thousands and one percent of your audience is upset by what you wrote and says so. I can’t see the logic of saying that those people shouldn’t have done. You can’t nominate a spokesperson.
(Also, like, it’s SUZANNE MOORE. I am sure she is genuinely upset and I’m not claiming she’s Ms Invincible, but, like, her schtick for the past fifteen years has been that she’s the biggest, baddest, mouthiest kid on the block with the most to be angry about, and she’s sure as hell not going to shut up and make tea whilst the men on the left define The Real Enemy. But when people are angry with her, that’s somehow illegitimate and they should keep quiet in service to The Bigger Truth? I do not get that.)
Here’s the timeline for anyone that hasn’t seen it…. I don’t think the initial comments were sufficient provocation for Moores (utterly reprehensible) responses, and that’s speaking as a working class women what’s still working class living on a far north island….a woman that’s only heard the term “cissexism” for the first time today!!! Otherwise agree with the general gist of this post 🙂
We’re not re-trying Suzanne Moore here, or we shouldn’t be, anyway. So it doesn’t matter at this stage who said what to whom first. What matters is what Stella was talking about: that POST-furore, people were afraid to voice opinions about it – ANY opinions – because the furore was so violent. We can’t just shrug that off or tell people to toughen up, surely – the very first principle of intersectional discourse is to listen to others’ experiences and acknowledge them as valid!
I’m disappointed that this article doesn’t mention Moore’s vile comments about trans individuals cutting off bits of their bodies, or her history of rather problematic opinions on transgender issues. The big hoopla didn’t happen until Moore lost in and started to sneer and dismiss criticism (the big majority of which was polite, eloquent and simply interested in some clarification), which she did for a solid period of time before deleting her twitter account.
I also don’t understand why politeness and tone is suddenly so important on this topic when the entire point of Moore’s piece was on the power of women getting angry in political discourse. Women got angry at her piece and she told them to fuck off. Why does she not apply her own rules to others when she’s the subject of disagreement? I wish those people so quick to defend Moore and call for some sort of politeness in this discourse were so quick to do so with those who were truly hurt by her words. I’m sure Moore did receive some nasty comments but she wrote off every single one she received as nothing but trolling, then continued to make vile comments. She shut down the discourse, not anyone else.
You talk of intersectionality being a classist term and complicating matters, but I think that’s really deflecting why the term exists and why it’s so important. Here’s the thing about privilege – not only does it mean that you’re playing with a full deck, it also means that you’re going to be listened to more, and that your platform is larger. Moore has a huge platform, for which she is paid. Those who criticised her were mainly individuals with no such platform, people who are hurt by casual generalisations and bigoted stereotypes of what constitutes being trans. Moore may not wish to acknowledge it (nor do a surprising number of leftie columnists) but they are in a big position of privilege above those who read their work. Their thoughts and writings are open for a huge audience and are given a level of credence that unpaid bloggers on Tumblr or WordPress really don’t have. There aren’t a whole lot of trans columnists out there, so when cis figures write about these issues, or even just making a passing careless comment about Brazilian transsexuals”, they’re given a level of legitimacy. If we don’t call out these problematic issues that do effect people then they’re allowed to fester and grow and become normal.
Intersectionality is important, and only takes a few seconds to google (the Wikipedia page on it is actually excellent). It’s something we should consider when discussing such issues, particularly feminism, because feminism shouldn’t just be a privileged white woman’s game. I used to wonder why on earth any woman wouldn’t want to call themselves feminist, but after seeing so many women, particularly LGBTQ women, disabled women and women of colour have their concerns shut down and dismissed as not part of the “real issues”, I completely get it. We feminists should be working really bloody hard to ensure that we understand the context and implications of what we say, do and support, because if we only apply feminism to ourselves and those just like us, then there’s no point in the movement. It goes from being feminism to narcissism.
The problem in my opinion is not being biased about a group. We all are because we all have some kind of privileges that we are not fully aware of and this bias might fatally slip out and reveal itself at some point or another into a conversation, a piece we write etc. And while we are probably not expected to be perfect within our group of friends (which usually reflects our own identities), if we are addressing the public which is heterogeneous in its composition it might be a good idea to make sure that our examples or depictions do not make life worse for those groups which society already oppresses. I mean: I am sure the producers of “Butterfly kiss” weren’t trying to oppress lesbians by implying that we’re all deranged serial killers but that film just happened to come along a series of others that depicted lesbians not very nicely to say the least while there were hardly any depicting us in a positive way. Once lesbians became to be depicted in any way reflecting the variety of our own group, I could identify with some of the depictions and relax, not needing to contest every fictional character but when I saw ‘Butterfly kiss’ in 1995, I was very disappointed, almost upset (although Amanda Plummer was fantastic). I hope you write again about transexuals, but at the same time you cannot expect to be liked if by depicting a character of a disadvantaged group you happen to reinforce stereotypes and therefore hurt some or most of its components.
But this still isn’t a problem. Because the people belonging to the group, (although it’s not their job and it’s generally tiring having to repeat all the time the same things) are generally well disposed to speak out and help whoever doesn’t get the full picture of their situation, to see their perspective too and fill up the aspects one is not aware of. That’s what communication is about and also personal growth. I don’t think heterosexuals generally identify themselves as such because they don’t need to, heterosexuality has long believed to be the norm and you don’t define the norm, you define the difference. In the same way we don’t identify as cis, because we don’t need to. There wasn’t even a name for ‘us’ cisgendered until it was invented quite recently and while we could ‘call’ transgenders they could not ‘call’ us.
But getting back to communication (and how complicated it is). If I am part of an offended group and I believe that there is bias in what has been said or written I will do my best to convey the message that I have been hurt and try to explain why. In truth, I usually do that even if I am not part of the group provided I have some knowledge about it, because one of the most moving moment in my life has been when most of the class I was attending counterargued to homophobic reasoning of a classmate without me having to step in. Since they shared a vision of my place in society they were able to argue as rationally as I would have and it was refreshing for once not to have to step up for ‘my own’ group.
I believe this clear type of communication has not happened in the Susanne Moore case. I accept the responses might have sounded patronising to her but I also suspect that they may have sounded as such because she may have not been fully aware of the disadvantages the group faces daily all over the world and of the times one in this group has to state what one perceives as obvious (I follow a few transexuals on twitter and there are serious issues they address almost every week). I do agree that personal attacks are generally not a good idea if I want to communicate and have an exchange, however, at the humptieth ‘left’ wing Italian politician which says that homosexuals cannot get married because they are unable to form a stable family, I might have been noticed to drop the etiquette and just go for noticing how stupid what they say is. I therefore hope I can imagine how a MtF transexual feels about having her body (which may have been described at some point as not feminine enough to be credible) and which has been policed against masculinity until she managed to transition, policed this time against femininity, being compared with an ideal oppressive kind of femininity. To me that’s abusive.
On the other hand, whoever receives complaints and criticism has three options: 1) Discard them as not relevant and get back to their own occupation. 2) Listen to what the message is, like you Stella have done by aknowledging at least the Brazilian trans situation. I believe this is the most constructive part of communication because we can grow out of our biases. More than 10 years ago I was advocating in a lesbian forum that MtFs had no place among us lesbians because I was very confused about the difference between gender and sexual identity. 5 years after my transphobic statement I met one of the women who I wanted out of that forum, realised how stupid I had been and apologised thus becoming her friend. I was lucky she did not hold the grudge against me, but without my apology it wouldn’t have had sense to become friends. In a way we both dropped our pride. 3) Not take into account what has been said and point out instead about what is wrong with the part who has started criticism. This only makes the communication more problematic, but one is still free to go ahead with it.
I am honestly sorry that Susanne Moore has felt threatened by the response to her article on twitter. Twitter should serve as a place to interact rather than as a bullying space to make one feel inadequate about oneself. Having said that though, I reckon that everytime we let pride get in the way between our age, our job, our knowledge etc and what someone is trying to tell us we miss an important opportunity, that of gaining a wider perspective.
Speaking of which I must thank you Stella, for pointing out how academic language makes you feel inadequate. I do identify as working class too and I am only enjoying higher education now that I am 40, yet two years into higher education and I already use jargon without realising I sound like those pompous writers I used to disdain.
All the best
I read this and at first agreed with you, not having read Suzanne Moore’s replies on Twitter to criticisms of her article. Then I read them, and I’m afraid I don’t have any support for her position at all now. People told her they were hurt by her article, but she ignored this, dismissed the very real hurt people were feeling and told them she didn’t believe in transphobia! If only she had apologised for hurting people and promised to take their concerns to heart in future, there would not be so many people feeling angry and disappointed at her now.
If someone as manifestly decent as Suzanne Moore can suffer such vitriol, and an article can cause such offence, without malicious intent, and a middle-aged male Guardian reader like me can then be confronted with a whole discourse with which I was almost completely unaware: intersectionality, transphobia, femmes etc then the enemy that Suzanne Moore was trying to nail ( the rich guys who are persecuting the poorest and most vulnerable) gets away with it again. She was being satirical, but with a serious moral intent. She is (or was) on the side of the angels in this debate, but Twitter is such a volatile environment that whatever you write, someone will be offended. But if we cannot express ourselves without a huge eruption of scorn, contempt and simple wilful disregard for an individual’s feelings, then maybe Twitter is doomed. Even as I write this, someone will read it and say:”Right, you privileged white middle class male bastard, what do you know about oppression? ” Well, I know that the storm over Suzanne Moore exemplified the left’s suicidal tendency to attack and destroy its own. It’s an own goal (says the typical male with his phallocentric obsession with football). I am not wading in here, looking for a fight, but this crushing of a decent journalist,accusing her of insensitivity and prejudice, at a time when Cameron and the whole rancid bunch are torching the welfare state,borders on the suicidal. l
Much to think about here. I don’t have a tv or read newspapers. I’m not an academic person. I despise jargon, I am forced to use it in my job. Your blog is one of the best things I’ve read in for ages, it’s open, honest and to the point. I wish there was more honesty out there, but honesty without hurt or sarcasm and that people who choose to use social forums would do so responsibly, allowing debate and valuing difference of opinions without all the anger and blame.
We all have to be responsible for the labels we put upon ourselves and others and although labels aren’t good we all use them as a basic description, as in to describe and these words change as language changes and words become harmful because of the way that people use them in a derogatory way. It’s hard to keep up sometimes with what will be deemed offensive and what offends one may not offend another. If someone doesn’t like the words used to describe they could just challenge it without causing offence in return or by providing an alternative.
It’s a real shame that people are hounded away from twitter for trying to do good to start with.
Thanks for this piece Stella. I will now go back to twitter and change my login to provide my real name.
Thanks Stella for such a thoughtful piece!
And I really appreciate Queeriodical’s comments here. (re: “often missing each others’ points and misunderstanding each others’ pain, because we don’t realise how we have touched a nerve, and all the pain and oppression behind that. We are responding to triggers, rather than what was said.”)
I agree that in many ways this is generational. And would add that cultural context also plays a role. And in many ways it’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the fact that others (other generations often) may see feminism or feminist issues through an entirely different lens/framework.
More than anything, my hope would be that we could find ways to communicate beyond the fear/pain/triggers, and effectively work together!
The key point is this.
Of course people should not deliberately be racist, sexist or show discrimination to anyone, but policing peoples words, as someone earlier said making it essentially a moralistic semantic battle over behaviour, this ignores the fact that to overturn any kind of oppression, or even to elevate it a little we have to find ways to unite and build movements of solidarity between us rather than look for superficial divisions to beat the ruling class.
Capital and the Right are on suicidal trajectory for humanity, climate change means we are running out of time, yes we must try and respect each other, in how we talk with each other, even if people sometimes say things that upset of annoy you, it’s not key issue. (Personally I think, thinking of sexuality in these labelled ‘cut up’ ways is wrong, it’s more flexible than that), but we can argue about that while trying to change the actual material conditions that will make us all more equal.
The twitter stuff is bullying whatever the good intentions of the people doing it (by which I mean I know they think they are defending the oppressed), it’s slightly obsessive too.
Thanks for this thoughtful piece about an unfortunate episode which can’t be fully understood without knowing a bit about the wider context, ie it being somewhat symptomatic of a conflict with a long and sad history:
on one side the rather strident rhetoric of certain radical feminists, with many a legitimate axe to grind, of course, but writing sometimes entire books that rubbish, ridicule and deny the validity of all trans identies;
On the other side a silenced and disempowered trans community, demonized and attacked by all sides, some of whom harbour an understandable but arguably self defeating desire that everyone must agree that they are ‘real’ women or men. (Whatver ‘real’ means)
It wasn’t the ‘brazillian transsexual’ reference that caused all the fuss. It was with her (now deleted) tweets about trans people “chopping their dicks off” and such like, that suzanne moore seems to have invoked a great deal of this historical baggage. I don’t think if you look at the timeline of who said what (which can still be read elsewhere on the net) that she was ‘hounded off twitter’. She chose to leave, which is a pity. She said on twitter that she has a problem with ‘trans anything’. Her prerogative. And here’s the thing:. So what? She’s still a talented writer and by all acounts very nice in person. On the strength of her tweets she does hold some seriously old fashioned and unenlightened ideas about trans experience and body modification but ithat’s hardly a criminal offence. As people grow older their perspective can often get a wee bit out of touch – the ground shifts beneath them and they sometimes don’t notice – but throughout hisory that’s been part of the elders’ job description for heaven’s sake! It gives the next lot a reference point when their parents say funny things like. ‘rock and roll is just a passing fad’ or ‘ this internet business will never catch on’ or ‘there’s no such thing as trans people’. Ok, it does get a bit frustrating that they have the power of the mass media megaphone (and houses!) but nothing lasts for ever.. In the meantime let’s not fall into the trap of mirroring rthe reactivity of a few. Baby boomer narcissism and hypersensitivity is part of the problem, not the solution. Let’s respomd yes, but not react reflexively every time someone presses the victim button, as some surely will when they need a cheap laugh or a scapegoat. We are all of us (and I don’t mean just trans people) potentially so much stronger than the insidious ‘victim’ narrative currently in vogue would have us believe. Let’s cultivate our resilience not our fragility. The world is moving on and it’s time to grow up. .The situation in which we find ourselves demands it. Perhaps we can at least all agree that whatever our disagreements about ‘gender’ (or anything else for that matter) we are all ‘real’ human beings. We are all actually quite magnificent creatures. The chances of us even existing are impossibly small, yet here we are. That would seem like a good place to start….
Mary you make some very good points but most of what I saw was not trans poeple being hurt, it was the same 20-odd twitter users who are NOT trans who go on the attack EVERY time a prominent feminist says something a little bit wrong. They have appointed themselves queens & kings of feminist language and they shut out the voices of the women who are actually affected by these issues.
And it’s ordinary women who are slencd by this behaviour, who don’t add thier voices to any debate on women’s issues in case they get it wrong. They self-censor. And others are just turned away from feminism all together.
Having dated a trans guy for a while, my brief experience of the trans community is that they are very forgiving of people’s genuine mistakes in use of terminology etc, as long as they can see you are genuinely trying to understand the issues. This debacle isn’t going to stop me personally commenting about trans people / issues. I agree with what others have said, the initial comment itself wasn’t hugely offensive in my eyes, and I think we all know what she meant, however the ensuing bile and highly offensive things she then started spouting, there can be no going back from that and it was undoubtedly blatant discrimination. I was pretty horrified to be honest.
Thanks for posting this, and it raises some really important points. I’m very much of the view that identity politics (and the policing of language that goes with it) as it’s been practice is incredibly destructive, counter-productive and damaging to the very causes it purports to advance.
It’s lead the cul de sac of an obsession with language, and an obsession with ‘offence’, which seems now to be automatically equated with the worst kinds of bigotry, and to such pointless infighting and self righteous attempts to police what people can say.
That Moore is blunt & sweary is hardly news, and if you wanted to there’s hardly anything she writes that someone couldn’t take ‘offence’ at.
Moore’s come across as incredibly intelligent, but also someone who’d have little time for worst aspects of academic identity feminist politics. Her response back to people who wished to attack her for a throw away line they’d chosen to take utterly out of context was always going to be the equivalent of ‘f-off, I don’t give a crap what you think’. I doubt it was the abuse as such, more the self appointed censoress nature of it that got her goat.
The thing is you can tell she’s confident in what feminism means to her, and also in her credentials at having spoken up for all these issue for years. The rest of it wasn’t terribly surprising, just sad that some self appointed people who’ve decided that they’re going to police such a complex issue as identity have forced her off Twitter.
It would be nice to think those obsessed with identity politics might get that there’s loads of people who believe passionately in equality who simply don’t approach politics in that way, and don’t like be told they’re wrong for doing so.
Thank you Stella and thank you for the great discussion here. I was rude and angry and not at all polite. I had been told amongst other things I should be decapitated, have a dank odour and worse that I support the EDL???
Words are my job. Trans language and the binary language of Cis etc I reject. I question this kind of dogma. In my real life remember that? Guess what I likes some trans people and not others ? Just like all people.
A lot of the attack on me is that I should have been more polite . Sorry but thats where I won’t back down. Polite to people who wish me dead but have not bothered to read what I wrote. No I am not lady like in this way. I am human and the abuse got to me. If you want to engage with “powerful journalists” dont expect them never to have any feelings?
I have great fun on twitter and thats also part of the problem. My flip humour does not work for the literal minded and thats life I guess.
The bad thing I said about men lopping off their dicks: Clearly thats a fantasy and NEVER HAPPENS though strangely I have met many trans people who have indeed paid a fortune to have this happen. Obvs I know the tissue is then re-used etc but this is twitter.
As I said anger is an energy . And I have it. I thank those who have supported me. I can come back on twitter and have a clean guardian type feed where i RT my pieces and never say anything offensive. I see thats how many journos operate and its not my style and never has been. I am not silenced or bullied ,I just thought lets leave it or take it outside. The trans activists most incensed are a vocal minority doing no favours for any kind of sisterhood. I am only sad that the two pieces this week one of female anger and one asking for solidarity should result in me being public enemy No 1 for 15 seconds. So I ask whose side are you on ? Cos George Osborne must be shaking in his boots right now?
Here is to the kindness of strangers, men, women ,trans that I have experienced this week , And fuck the begrudgers.
What a brilliant, sensitively written piece. As a straight, middle-class white woman, I usually stay well out of these debates, mainly because I have a crippling fear of saying the wrong thing and causing offence. If the reason for the offence taken is explained calmly (I, too, didn’t know about the murder of Brazillian transexuals, I do now), then people who haven’t grown up with or had to deal with particular forms of oppression can learn and educate others, rather than becoming offended or defensive in their turn.
The problem was not her mildly annoying use of the phrase “Brazilian transsexuals” but her reaction when queried about it. She descended straight into talk of lopping off genitals, perpetuating the deeply offensive dogma that still persists in the darker reaches of feminism that MtF trans women are deluded and mutilated men.
Everyone gets something a bit wrong sometimes and suffers a mild loss of face as they gracefully retreat from their position. She chose instead to dig herself in deeper, with the inevitable result.
@Suzanne Moore – “The bad thing I said about men lopping off their dicks: Clearly thats a fantasy and NEVER HAPPENS though strangely I have met many trans people who have indeed paid a fortune to have this happen. Obvs I know the tissue is then re-used etc but this is twitter.”
It’s not MEN “chopping off their dicks”, it’s WOMEN. Trans women.
This is the kind of comment we’re supposed not to challenge lest the Tories win, is that right? Any trans woman who is upset by this comment should put it aside and focus on the bigger picture because Suzanne Moore is too important and too nice too be challenged, is that what people are arguing? I don’t get it.
And people who don’t know about this stuff and are scared of getting it wrong, it’s OK, really. You probably will get it wrong sometime – say, “Oh God, I’m so sorry – I didn’t know. I’ll go and find out more about it.” People are upset with Suzanne Moore because despite having written about feminism for thirty-odd years, her reaction is defensive and dismissive. You are very unlikely to get attacked the same way unless you very deliberately and loudly defend your right to dehumanize and ignore other women’s problems.
Am I the only one who could give a gnats chuff if ” George Osborne is shaking his head’ right now? Why has this blog piece, ostensibly about interrogating considered ‘shutting down terms such as ‘intersectionality’, using the exact same censoring framework to account for SM later hurtful transphobic comments?. Why as self proclaimed ‘left’ are you (SM and SD) in anyway concerned what the Estabilishment thinks of this exchange?
Does it give them some weird superpower called wealth and privilege? Because I thought capitalism gave them that. So if the ‘left’ you are so concerned not to challenge Moore, happen to be the left that want to fundamentally change those economic relations in society e.g the socialist left, then right now, as at any moment since the start private property relations, it is essential that discussion, exchange dialogue and actioning that dialogue is vigorously and relentlessly encouraged and not closed down.
If the assumed ‘left ‘ you are talking about are the ones who want to remain within the system of capitalism that supports the disproportionate wealth and resource in society (i.e supports the continuing violence against women globally) the shutup- and- rally -behind -neo liberal establishment- BS ‘left’, then I believe this whole polemic has started from a butters premiss. – Don’t know what butters means? I will help you http://www.urbandictionary.com/ .
I like the piece agree with most of it. I think that perhaps this sentence is not what you mean to say, (perhaps I’m wrong),
“And right now, even while acknowledging the vital power of language and that it can hurt and it definitely matters, I honestly do think that our efforts need to be concentrated on the enemy without not – right now, this current government – rather than the real and/or perceived enemy/enemies ‘within’.”.
A “not” too many in there?
Yes, good copy editing. I meant now, not not, as I figure most people worked out. Thanks.
Firstly, I’d just like to flag Mary Macfarlane’s (11/1 7:30pm) and Ally Fogg’s (11/1 7:33pm) comments. These are the ones that best portray things from my own perspective (from the nebulous cis/trans border).
Secondly, a few comments on Suzanne Moore’s comments (12/1 8:04am). Sorry if these seem confrontational, but it’s hard to be conciliatory when someone is totally unwilling to make any concessions.
> Trans language and the binary language of Cis etc I reject. I question this kind of dogma. In my real life remember that?
What is this trans dogma exactly? The trans community is hugely sex and gender diverse. More relevant in this instance is a particular type of feminist dogma that refuses the reality of trans* people’s lives, due mainly to a wilful desire to do so. Whereas, in fact, a feminist understanding of gender is not at all incompatible with the multiplicity of trans* realities.
> The bad thing I said about men lopping off their dicks: Clearly thats a fantasy and NEVER HAPPENS though strangely I have met many trans people who have indeed paid a fortune to have this happen. Obvs I know the tissue is then re-used etc but this is twitter.
There you go: a wilful desire not to understand. Please refer to Mary McFarlane’s comment just above.
> The trans activists most incensed are a vocal minority
Right, the lunatic fringe, easily dismissed. Obviously there are no actual issues for you to address.
Please try and remember back when you were the “lunatic fringe” instead of a major newspaper correspondent. It shouldn’t be too difficult because, as a high-profile feminist writer, there are still countless idiots telling you the same thing every day. And sorry, but in this particular case, you’re them.
I figured they did too, but just knew that someone with your eye for the perfect wouldn’t like to let something like that go.. 🙂
I can’t add anything much to this specific topic of conversation, but I wanted to say that if you felt scared by the idea of doing something, and then you did it anyway, you were brave. That is undeniably brave, by definition. I am proud of you for being brave. I would imagine you are still a bit intimidated by reading new comments, and yet you are still reading. That is still brave. Not just proud of, but inspired by you, which makes this both bravery and eldership. Thank you.
I am curious (but only in an amused way) you fairly firmly request that commenters use their ‘real names’ and yet later promote the idea of individuals (or groups)… ‘to use whichever labels we choose for ourselves’. How are we supposed to accommodate these two opposing positions on identity when communicating with you; given that any legal identity is likely to have been assigned to us at birth and therefore by definition not a label that we could possibly have had the opportunity to choose for ourselves?
A considered response all the same thanks and I have used my legally given name simply because I can’t think of anything more appropriate.
By label I mean terms such as gay, straight, dyke, middle class etc.
By name I mean the name people know us by/the name we go by in public life.
I think those two definitions are fairly standard, but happy to have explained further.
Thanks for clarifying your position but it still implies that you believe that one form of label gay, straight etc. is for us ourselves to self-identify where as a ‘name’ as a form of public identification is the property of those other than ourselves.
In reality it is hard to separate any given ‘name’ from implications for your other kind label. Perhaps just numbers would be better?
I emphasise again I am not criticising, It is just I am not convinced that identities are as simple or separate as that, individually or as groups.
But thanks for indulging me all the same and I must leave it there and go to work.
Of course the main reason for asking for names (as in the ones we use day to day, go by publicly) – where it is not going to cause them or their loved ones actual harm – is to encourage people to put their ‘real’ name to their words online. Not least because I honestly believe (most) people are more careful and considered when they are having to stand beside their point as themselves, not as a pseudonym. And I’m here, as me, so I’d quite like other people to do the same.
I am glad you are continuing to engage. I hope this may lead somewhere better. I have a question I’d hoped to ask. This fairly open, honest and respectful comments thread seems to be a good place to ask it:
In the original article, the one where this controversy began, you wrote of the power of anger, saying “Cherish it, for this is how the future will be made.” Presumably, the people who directed their anger at you thought that this was part of making their future. Presumably, rage was by some seen as a needed justified and strategic response. You also said “Women’s rage is also never seen as what we say it is actually about. It is inchoate, unreadable and uncontrollable.” Do you think it’s possible you might be seeing trans* activists’ rage the same way?
I really think it’s quite gob-smackingly astounding that Moore is now saying people have objected to her last lot of tweets because they were ‘not polite’. She will not accept that she was deliberately attacking a section of our human community and that the people she attacked simply replied to her in the same tone she spoke ABOUT – not to – them.
I am no fan of over politeness or blandness myself. But I am quite fond of human compassion. Moore has shown a lack of that right up to her comments here.
But the fundamental difference is on one side the anger appears to being directed at controlling what language is deemed appropriate. Someone’s said if you use the wrong language ‘it’s ok’, but that seems to be clearly not the case as otherwise there would have been an attempt to grasp the context of what Moore was say, rather than to jump in taking offence.
I don’t think it’s even about focusing on the ‘enemy’ as much accepting that people define things differently, people use different language, all the while seeking similar outcome & believing similar things. She’s said she doesn’t feel silenced, but those attacking her have clearly left the impression than unless she or for that matter anyone else frames things in terms they find acceptable that they should be.
Hi Stella, what a great piece, I have also read your follow up one which is brilliant. There are some really thought provoking comments on here which I read through carefully and considered before adding my own.
I read Suzanne Moore’s piece and watched the ensuing brouhaha as it unfolded. I found her piece insightful and passionate and knew instantly what she was conveying in her use of the ‘Brazilian transsexual’ analogy. I have generally avoided any discussions around trans-politics as a) I am not trans and b) I have seen some vitriol which is frankly scary. Unless one is totally au fait with the correct terminology it can be so easy to unintentionally offend and ‘transphobia’ is too liberally and erroneously applied, in my view. I fear that feminism is heading in the same direction, which is a real shame as the more who engage, the better it is for us all, otherwise it’s a case of ‘preaching to the converted’.
I confess to be somewhat bemused by the reaction to Moore’s piece, but as I have been reminded several times of late that I am privileged as a cis woman. Until recently, I had never encountered the terms ‘cis’, .kyriarchy’ nor ‘intersectionality’. Now, I will be the first to state that language is hugely important and it does shape as well as reflect our culture and we have to challenge in order to remove prejudice. However, it is constantly evolving and I for one, being a Twitter regular and avid reader of feminist blogs find myself stumbling into a veritable minefield of terminology that I am having to look up and find frankly daunting, leaving me feeling not only stupid, undereducated and lacking but also shameful and guilty of this privilege that I have. I loathe the term ‘privilege’ in the way in which it is currently being used in feminist interectionality discourse, as it is value laden and judgemental. I am not overly fond of being labelled as ‘cis’ either but understand that in a certain context it is used to distinguish women born as women and who identify as such from trans women much in the same way as ‘neurotypical’ is used to define those not on autistic spectrum. However, I find it all rather divisive as have other with whom I have spoken to and in my experience it turns would be allies off.
A bit about me – I love words and have often be called a ‘word smith’. I am no stranger to oppression, being mixed race have had my fair share of racism as well as sexism, misogyny and anti-feminism. I have also been accused of racism and Islamophobia for speaking out against FGM, forced marriages and UK Sharia courts. I have a postgrad in Women’s Studies and navigated my way through postmodernism, existentialism and semiotics (tricky). Language evolves all the time, I appreciate that but to keep up you have to be extremely dedicated and constantly reading. The reality of those lives outside academia is that we don’t have the time. Words that are not derivative or in any way self explanatory and require looking up with lengthy explanations using academic language are in my view exclusive. I am struck by the fact that intersectionality as a term (rather than concept) militates against its very definition. Or maybe I am too thick to understand it! I have asked at least 30 people within the past week if they know its meaning and only two, both of whom are academics,did. I do believe that plain and simple language is the only way to engage a wider audience which is why Moran’s books are such a huge success.
Reminding other oppressed groups of their privilege is something that I have seen a lot of of late and I find it all horribly divisive. It’s all a bit Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea which split and splintered the women’s movement in the first place and we seem to be returning to that. Perhaps it’s a generational thing but no two people’s experiences are alike. Everyone’s is valid and we should listen to others and not negate those whose own do not mirror ours. We should also be able to voice our opinions without fear of being slapped with a ‘phobia’ label. We should also be able to join in without fear of being made to look, feel stupid or unworthy of being feminists. Tonight on Twitter, I was accused of being a ‘false ally of feminism’ because I stated that the term ‘intersectionality’ is not helpful (whilst at the same time stating that I support the concept) which is a first in all my years of feminism. I was a feminist before I even knew the word and have been accused of extremism, a man hater, jealous of Hooters women etc etc but never of not having the proper credentials. It’s all very well saying ;just google it, I did’ but that is working on a very big presumption in my view and we must not assume that everyone is like us.
Having spoken to quite a few women (and a couple of men) there is a perception that the current terminology seems to be escalating into a taxonomy of oppression status. Most feminists are intersectional, even if they do not use the term, but language can be and is divisive. It all began again in the latter part of last century with ‘the personal is the political’ and even I get that. However, I for one would be grateful if the language weren’t so alienating and exclusive. It won’t further the cause in my view. I agree with your blog, Stella, both this one and the follow up.
Apologies if this is a stream of consciousness.
Alison – you say you think the term “transphobia” is too liberally applied (which is, as it happens, exactly what the C of E bishops are saying about the word “homophobia” when it’s applied to their opposition to equal marriage) and that it’s important not to use words which alienate people. But don’t you see how alienating out is for trans people when Moore uses “transsexual” as an example of someone who’s not a real woman? Why is that defensible?
I understand that the word “intersectionality” is off-putting to some people, although I think the concept (“I have different experiences to you, and face specific different challenges: please listen to my account of what is important and what hurts me”) is really very simple and exactly what Moore was asking for in her original piece. But how can you think that the alienation caused by the word “intersectionality” matters but the alienation caused by “I don’t believe in the word transphobia” or “they’re just men chopping their dicks off” doesn’t matter? Don’t the people who are alienated by that matter just as much?
Andrew – if Moore or anyone else feels that “please don’t use transphobic language” is silencing, that’s her saying that transphobia is so vital to what she is trying to communicate that she can’t get along without it. I am comfortable with saying that people whose core message is transphobic should be criticised when they speak, just as I am comfortable with saying that anyone whose core message is racist or misogynist or homophobic should be criticised when they speak, and that the organs that give them a platform should be criticised.
That’s not a radical thought, or a denial of free speech. Asking people not to use dehumanizing language about trans people and explaining why that language is dehumanizing is no more an attempt to control language than speaking out against any other kind of dehumanizing language.
But that’s not what happened was it, she was attacked in much blunter terms than that & accused being something she clearly isn’t.
As we’ve seen here not everyone accepts the framing you’ve put on her words, and that’s the key. It’s the insistence that one particular group get frame language to their way of thinking, and that if you fall foul of that then suddenly you’re the enemy.
Not everyone accepts particular approaches to identity politics as valid, and there definitely appears to be a tendency amongst some people to be extremely intolerant of anyone who thinks differently.
Thanks for your blog – it was really thoughtful and made me stop and consider how language can be problematic. It’s a real shame if people are being put off the ideas behind feminism by overly academic language and the fear of being aggressively told to shut up. Twitter is a really bad forum to have these kinds of arguments on, as it is impossible to express yourself properly in 140 characters, and you end up saying things you don’t mean.
I come from an academic feminist background, and interestingly most of my knowledge about intersectionality didn’t come from my MA, but from reading feminist, anti-racist and disability themed blogs afterwards. Most of the blogs were written by people who didn’t come from an academic stance, and were also not straight/white/middle-class/able-bodied etc. So I’ve not particularly associated intersectional feminism with academia. I suppose there’s a fine line between being made to challenge your own ideas on these issues (and I do think ‘privilege-checking’ can sometimes be very positive), and being confused and alienated by not knowing what kind of terms you should be using.
I just wondered what you thought of Suzanne Moore’s responses to the initial “Brazilian Transsexual” comment, both on Twitter and as a comment on this blog post, as you haven’t really mentioned them, and as I understand it, that’s where a lot of the anger came from.
“The bad thing I said about men lopping off their dicks: clearly that’s a fantasy and NEVER HAPPENS though strangely I have met many trans people who have indeed paid a fortune to have this happen.”
Here, Moore doesn’t see transwomen as women, but as men who for some unfathomable reason have subjected themselves to pointless and expensive surgery. I find it really hard to forgive this as a throwaway angry comment motivated by a lack of understanding. It comes from a certain type of radical feminist world-view that has had its own academic discourse – “The Transsexual Empire” by Janice Raymond is an example.
I’m currently working with some amazing second-wave feminists in their seventies and eighties, who I do feel I can learn a lot from, but whose attitudes to trans* issues and also to Islamic women make me feel deeply uncomfortable, simply because I know that they could cause a lot of hurt to a lot of people.
It’s the same with Suzanne Moore. But I hold her more to account than my colleagues, because she has a feminist voice in the mainstream press, and that’s a position that a lot of the intersectional bloggers don’t have. I do feel that she has more of a responsibility than your average feminist to keep up to date with stuff, because she’s going to be reaching a wide audience. And if, as it seems from her comments, she actually does hold some views that trans* people find offensive, then she should expect to be challenged on them.
But not with the threat of decapitation, because that’s just abusive bullying.
Since Suzanne Moore has repeatedly indicated she doesn’t consider transgender women at all but rather men who just lob bits off their body to “become” women and things they assume gender roles that reinforce gender binary standards I don’t see what all the debate it about. There is no way to reframe her attitude as anything other than transphobic without putting on blinders and walking around into walls. She lost a fan in me as well as Caitlin Moran and pretty much everybody else who defended her. I could understand initially defending her as the initial comment while sadly ignorant wasn’t the worst offense ever. Her subsequent article and twitter comments weren’t even veiled transphobia. They were outright. If one would object to racism, classism, and sexism they should object to transphobia unless they just don’t care. In which case, nobody can make you but don’t try to rationalize it. You aren’t fooling me and if you need to fool yourself there are journals for that.
@ Andrew Regarding the widely different responses to Suzanne Moore’s piece, please read Ally Fogg’s comment above (11/1 7:33 pm).
People don’t always respond in the same way, some people get very angry and shout rude and abusive things which would have been better left unsaid (see for example, Julie Birchill’s new piece about all this).
Nevertheless, the basic point is as Mary MacFarlane just elucidated. I don’t really see how this can be argued with.
Hi Mary, in response to your questions:
>you say you think the term “transphobia” is too liberally applied (which is, as it happens, exactly what the C of E bishops are saying about the word “homophobia” when it’s applied to their opposition to equal marriage) and that it’s important not to use words which alienate people. But don’t you see how alienating out is for trans people when Moore uses “transsexual” as an example of someone who’s not a real woman? Why is that defensible?
I say that it is too liberally applied in much the same way that ‘Islamophobia’ is when the intent is not to offend nor is there any hatred or prejudicial motives, when they are genuinely trying to engage in much needed open discourse. Intent is key here, in my view and I do think that the fear of being labelled as ‘phobic’ when one is clearly not, silences people and we self-censor. Getting the terminology wrong is not the same as being ‘phobic’ Sometimes it can feel overwhelming and akin to following a script; I had no idea that the word ‘transsexual’ was considered offensive and that ‘transwoman’ is preferential. I daresay had I used it naively which I have until now, I may have been accused of being transphobic which I do not consider myself to be. I see how alienating it is now but like others both from within and outside the transcommunity (judging by some of the above comments) there has been a mixed reaction to that particular aspect. It is a minefield as I have already stated. Do some transpeople not use the preface trans and refer to themselves and others as women and men? Perhaps this is stupid question but again it highlights the complexity of language and identity politics.
>I understand that the word “intersectionality” is off-putting to some people, although I think the concept (“I have different experiences to you, and face specific different challenges: please listen to my account of what is important and what hurts me”) is really very simple and exactly what Moore was asking for in her original piece. But how can you think that the alienation caused by the word “intersectionality” matters but the alienation caused by “I don’t believe in the word transphobia” or “they’re just men chopping their dicks off” doesn’t matter? Don’t the people who are alienated by that matter just as much?
I don’t think nor ever said nor implied that alienation caused by Moore’s subsequent tweets do not matter at all, I said that I was bemused by the response to the ‘transsexual Brazilian’ comment, which I now understand. I also understand why she would be defensive, which I think she was and I may well have been in her shoes when one tiny aspect of her passionate article was seized upon and rest overlooked. I didn’t infer from “I don’t believe in the word transphobia” that she doesn’t believe that transphobia exists nor than transpeople are victimised and oppressed, but she was making the point that I was, ie it is too liberally applied and I think she also said the same about ‘Islamophobia’. This is why I totally understood where she was coming from, I have been accused of similar for campaigning and speaking up on some of the issues I outlined in my original comment, so an intersectional approach can be perceived as interfering or being racist in this case, or you get told that you have no idea what you’re talking about which militates against engaging a wider audience to help achieve greater understanding and tolerance. I agree that “they’re just men chopping their dicks off” comment was insensitive, reductionist and literal. I can see why that would be construed as transphobic but I do not think that Moore is an enemy of transpeople.
I think that identity politics is important however, history has shown us that it has a tendency to create self imposed divisions and implode. Intersectionality obviously is the way forward but if you’re being dismissed/excluded from a group on the basis of being of a different generation, having had different life experiences of a specific era, whose culture has shaped and informed one’s views then that is antithetical to intersectionality, surely? It works both ways. I think that is why those who active in the 70s and 80s have issues around identity politics and language as taken to an extreme it is becomes single issue and fundamentally narcissistic, losing sight of the bigger picture and common enemy.
I am with Siren of Brixton on this and these comments resonate:
>Mary you make some very good points but most of what I saw was not trans poeple being hurt, it was the same 20-odd twitter users who are NOT trans who go on the attack EVERY time a prominent feminist says something a little bit wrong. They have appointed themselves queens & kings of feminist language and they shut out the voices of the women who are actually affected by these issues.
This, this and this. Who gets to define what feminism is and whether so and so is a ‘proper feminist’? Promoting instersectionality on the one hand yet then telling women who have been active (and did not have the privilege of all the rights that younger women take for granted today, they had to fight for them) for 30 odd years that they are ‘false feminists’ is ironic to say the very least! I see constant berating and belittling of others because of their privilege and a very vocal and intimidating minority pounce on articles written by the most prominent feminist journos and tear them to shreds. This is counter-productive and it sure as hell isn’t going to encourage more women into journalism or to engage with feminism. I went to see Tom Watson give a talk recently, he said that many people are deterred from entering politics as you need the’ skin of a rhino’, I would echo those sentiments about journalism too. I hate bullying of any kind, no matter what the provenance of it is or to whom it’s directed.
>And it’s ordinary women who are slencd by this behaviour, who don’t add thier voices to any debate on women’s issues in case they get it wrong. They self-censor. And others are just turned away from feminism all together.
Spot on. Many do and are continuing to do so. Social media is not for faint hearted. I have become somewhat inured to online abuse after years of ploughing a somewhat lonely furrow on a local general discussion board, which I no longer use. Robust debate and constructive criticism are necessary and there will always be differences of opinion; we’re not one homogeneous group after all. However, some of the vile abuse and vitriol I have witnessed is terrifying and I can totally understand why so many are turned off from feminism and the main medium for discourse is now online. I felt like hanging up my feminist boots yesterday after being told that I am a ‘false feminist’ by another feminist, I must say. So yes, I totally understand, Mary, why transwomen would feel alienated by being told that they’re not ‘real women’.
I do hope that Suzanne Moore goes back to Twitter in full tweeting mode.
I don’t get the knee-jerk reaction to the word “cis”. You are a woman, sure – and so are the women who were born with male bodies. I can look at you collectively and say, “You are women.” And then, when relevant, I could ask, “Are you a trans WOMAN or a cis WOMAN?” Unless you think this distinction is completely irrelevant in all contexts, what do you propose I ask? “Are you a trans woman or a woman?” – thus implying “trans women” aren’t REALLY women? Or “Are you a trans woman or a non-trans woman” – thus defining you only in negative terms?
The prefix “cis” means “on this side” as opposed to “trans”, which means “on the other side”. These are actually dictionary meanings that are much older than this specific usage. Their connotations are as neutral as they get. So really, if I want to refer to someone’s status as non-trans, but I don’t want to exclude trans people, what do you suggest I say? Honest question.
Doesn’t feel knee-jerk to me. And as I said on edited to add bit, grateful to others who have responded here, esp queeriodical, whose explanation of cis made it more likely I might feel comfortable using it. I was talking rather about why I prefer to choose my own labels, than take those others – whoever they may be – would allocate to me. And that I therefore understand why others also wish to choose their own labels, rather than have them thrust upon them.
Actually, I guess I’m also concerned about creating even more binaries (or labelling them perhaps). It is specifically because I do NOT think trans-women (ie women!) are not-women that I don’t feel the need to call myself cis. As I believe we are all women, demanding yet another binary feels superfluous. (Tho yes, I acknowledge there are certain discussions where the binary is useful.)
And to those who have asked what I thought about SM’s comments on twitter, she herself has said she was rude, and I agree, some of her twitter remarks were both rude and offensive. I gather she received comments that were also rude and offensive. I’d far rather though, not discuss who said what on twitter, as I think many people hit out in anger or sadness, and twitter is a dreadfully clumsy forum on which to do so. I’d rather discuss the more thoughtful articles, both SM’s original piece and the many others since, as I think we all have a better chance of engaging with each other that way, which is why I posted a selection of them at the start of my blog.
Anyway, I’ve learned lots this weekend, am really grateful to you all for all your comments.
Stella, Suzanne Moore has referred to trans women as “men chopping their docks off” right here on your blog, and I haven’t seen you make any reference to it or distance yourself from it. May I ask whether you think that is an acceptable way to refer to trans women?
I have. in the comment directly above this! posted almost 2 hours before your comment. but maybe it didn’t come through to you, in same way your original comment didn’t come through to my blog?
I’m coming at this from a tangent because, to be truthful, I’d never even heard of Suzanne Moore before today and hasn’t read her piece or the twitter arguments or any of that. I saw Julie Burchill’s disgraceful and utterly offensive article supposedly defending Suzanne but mostly trashing trans people and Ive gone backwards from there.
Stella, I agree with a lot of what you say and I agree that writers should be able to develop characters as they see fit. However they shouldn’t expect to be exempt from cruticidm if they write a stereotype or a caricature. It is a writer’s duty to do research and to use that to develop characters that are in at least one sense real. Realism won’t be the same for everyone. You don’t speak for every white working class lesbian. I don’t speak for every white working class bisexual. We can only speak for ourselves.
I have to say I don’t understand a comparison between an idealised female body and Brazilian transsexuals. She must have had something specific in mind. It wouldn’t be the first thing to come to my mind. It does give a sense of anger towards transsexuals for having these supposedly perfect bodies rather than being angry at the pressure on women to confirm to a particular body type.
It’s a shame she couldn’t just apologise if she didn’t mean it that way.
Why? What if she just fundamentally disagrees with those positions.
Actually Moore did briefly say she was well aware of that direction of identity politics, she just simply rejected it.
It’s a perfectly valid position to take,as I keep saying many people including many feminists believe this type of identity politics is totally counter-productive, and also object to the insistence that others get determine their identity or how they see the world..
The depressing thing is the inability to see that just because someone doesn’t accept certain framing, certain labels, or certain type of academic theory or academic language, does mean they don’t care about equality and opposing prejudice.
Sure, but you’d also expect people to consider the context and intention of words before leaping in to scream ‘phobic’.
I’m glad there is at least some calm rational discussion going on somewhere, and plleased to see Suzanne Moore contributing. She’s pretty unrepentent about the stuff that seems to have really upset people (the ‘chopping off dicks’ etc) but she is entitled to her opiinion and I guess if I were in her shoes I might be pissed off that her main points seem to have been upstaged.
Having said that, I don’t think we can simply gloss over the context, which is the crap thatt trans people encounter on a regular basis, take your your pick from discrimination, social exclusion, verbal abuse, violence and sexual assualt, stigmatization and ridicule from some mebers of the medical profession, and of course, in the midst of trying to hold our heads up, fnding ourselves repeatedly the butt of the joke or portrayed in the media as ‘fake’ , ridiculous or subhuman. This is not to accuse Suzanne of intentional malice, and I also don’t believe for a moment that she is ‘transphobic’. I’ve experienced plenty of that and believe me Suzannne Moore’s article is not it! But in a week when for instance, the London Review of Books slagged off the new portrait of Princess Kate because they said it made her look like ‘a male to femaile transsexual, complete with lantern jaw and five o clock shadow’, presumably not a good thing in the writers opinion, it’s hard not to read Suzanne’s piece without feeling that sense of despair, that again the reader is invited to see ‘transsexuals’ (sic) as ‘other’, sub human, inauthentic, ridiculous, ugly, devoid of dignity and unworthy of respect. I am lucky, I have a career in music and I edit a professional journal for humanistic psychologists. I know people I love and respect from all walks of life and who love and respect me in return. I have known deep despair, prejudice, violence, sexual assualt myself, but now have the resources to avoid the worst consequences of having broken the rules of gender in this deeply confused and often institutionally misogynistic and, yes, transphobic society. Many are not so lucky. I have done voluntary work with the police. There are some trans people who have lost everything because of who they are, family, job, friends, and then they find they can’t even leave their homes without experiencing hate and violence. They get bricks through their windows and worse. Their suffering is no more or less important than any other victimized group but is it any wonder that a few trans people lash out verbally when that suffering is ignored, caricatured or dismissed as ‘irrelavent ‘ by people who seem to them to be, relatively speaking, enormously priveliged and powerful? Is that so hard to understand? Isn’t this the kind of anger Suzanne is celebrating? Nobody needs to fall on their swords here, or be silenced by stifling ‘political correctness’. Most trans people I know can take a joke. I even laughed, despite myself, at Frankie Boyle’s joke on Twitter (look it up) which managed to be ‘offensive’ to all sides! A sense of humour is always desirable, but it’s easy to lose it when you’re already close to breaking point and then people who you admire and respect insist that the revolution requires that your identity and concerns be shat upon from a great height. All that’s really needed is a bit more empathy, humility and tenderness all round, and then the anger can be focussed where it belongs, not against individuals or vulnerable minorities, but on the systematic and institutionalized systems of exploitation and abuse which serve nobody.
Opps, the text I was replying to hasn’t appear, so my post makes no sense. Sorry about that.
I think I understood exactly what Suzanne Moore meant by her ill-advised ‘ideal’ body type description, but equally as I read it I cringed, realising how much her choice of words might upset any person (understandably) already sensitive about these issues.
I think the key problem is that she probably didn’t intend her words to refer to actual transgender people who happen to be Brazilian. I suspect she meant to refer to an imaginary idea, a caricatured extreme stereotype of transgender and not actually to real existing people. Although, this would still be offensive to some people as it could be seen to be propagating that kind of stereotyping.
I see this as similar to how I would feel if someone, for example, used the phrase ‘western women’ when they meant to refer to the kind of airbrushed hypersexualised soft-porn image found in certain men’s magazines.
People should think carefully before using words describing a whole group of real people when they actually mean something quite different.
I appreciate the article, but there are a few points I feel are misguided and which I’ve seen quite a lot this week.
–First off, on the issue of civility: as noble of an ideal as it is, it’s also a very easy way to ignore marginalized voices. I rarely ever let my anger enter into my writing and discourse; not because I feel it’s morally superior for me to do so, but because that’s just part of my personality. When truly nasty things are said about me and mine, my usual reaction is to internalize it, which is why I spent the first couple hours after reading Moore’s article/tweets crying, even hating myself for having “my” issues distract Real Feminists from Real Issues.
When I finally did start responding, there was little of the ire seen in other trans womens’ tweets; I mostly stuck to correcting factual inaccuracies from Moore and folks like Owen Jones who leapt to defend her. I also calmly offered my perspective while asking for elaboration on some of theirs’. And wouldn’t you know it, they ignored each and every one, choosing instead to highlight and respond to people telling them to eat shit as if they represented the extent of peoples’ criticism. This isn’t an isolated incident; in my experience, the most common reaction that people have to someone calmly pointing out factual or logical inconsistencies is just to ignore them or give a quick “I hear you, BUT-” followed by a repeat of what they had just said. I’ve had hours-long debates with people who thought my existence was an act of violence against women, and since I never got angry with them, they’ve always been able to brush me off with “let’s agree to disagree” and pat themselves on the back for leading such a cool, rational discourse.
My point is that if you want a more “civil” discourse on issues involving marginalized peoples’ struggles, you need to start by addressing the journalistic/intellectual culture that makes it so easy for “civil” arguments from said people to be totally ignored.
–Second, on the “I am/was working-class and I say words like intersectional are classist” argument: as a child of the rural, Southern US working-class who has yet to make more than 12,000USD in a year, I’m very put off by this reaction. Intersectionality has a lot of syllables, but it’s actually one of the simplest-to-explain concepts in feminist discourse (more so than the term “feminist” itself, ironically). There are different forms of oppression, and different people experience different combinations of said oppression. Being a white woman doesn’t give one a pass to be racist, being a religious minority doesn’t give one a pass to oppress LGBT folks, etc. I’ve talked about the concept with PhDs and high school dropouts and not a single person has had trouble understanding it. Any confusion that it might initially cause is more than made up for by how freaking useful it is as a concept.
–Third, and most importantly, I think that you and other commentators on this whole thing are missing a major reason why Moore’s comment was so damaging in the first place. The fact that she used the bodies of some of the most physically vulnerable women on Earth as an example of what’s wrong with our society was bad, but that’s only the surface of things. Look at the context of the comment again: “Brazilian transsexual” serves as a stand in for a poisonous, exaggerated and above all ungenuine/unnatural image of femininity. Trans women have been characterized as such for as long as academics have been writing about us, and it’s not even the first time Moore has done it. Take this article she wrote for the Daily Mail last year: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2080737/The-Iron-Lady-Meryl-Streeps-apple-pie-make-love-Margaret-Thatcher.html
“But then so is a culture in which the idealised female form is one rarely found in nature but common in the Brazilian transsexual community – ie, slim-hipped, long-limbed but with massive breasts.”
Or this Guardian piece from 2011:
“A look that has comes to us via porn, ladyboys, transsexuals, queer culture and high fashion is a look I now see on the bus.This excess of femininity may compensate for endless anxiety”
Note that in all of these examples, her wider arguments are unobjectionable; but by the same token, there was no real reason to use trans people as the embodiment of an unnatural (and ultimately patriarchal) gender expression. This isn’t just an “isolated comment” made without thought to the implications, and it’s not just offensive because Brazilian trans women are murdered at such high rates.
–Finally (and this is the part where I let my anger out a bit), WHAT FUCKIN PLANET ARE Y’ALL LIVING ON where trans womens’ bodies are held up as ideal body-types by media/culture? Seriously, this is the one comment I’ve seen from folks regarding this dust-up that I cannot even begin to wrap my head around. Personally, I’ve maybe seen a grand total of 2-3 media presentations of trans women in popular media that didn’t present their bodies in an overtly negative light. One of the biggest things that kept me from transitioning for years was the “knowledge,” gleaned from decades of media images, that my body would repulse most people and be attractive to no one but a slim population of “fetishists.” I’m starting to get the impression that this might be a UK media thing, but if so, you should acknowledge that.
I’ve got more to say, but this comment is already starting to get rambly so I’ll stop. I hope some of this makes sense and is helpful to someone.
I’m reminded of a quote from the 1986 essay Montgomery To Stonewall by Bayard Rustin where he talks about two American civil rights movements:
“[T]he job of the gay community is not to deal with extremists who would castigate us or put us on an island and drop an H-bomb on us. The fact of the matter is that there is a small percentage of people in America who understand the true nature of the homosexual community. There is another small percentage who will never understand us. Our job is not to get those people who dislike us to love us. Nor was our aim in the civil rights movement to get prejudiced white people to love us. Our aim was to try to create the kind of America, legislatively, morally, and psychologically, such that even though some whites continued to hate us, they could not openly manifest that hate. That’s our job today: to control the extent to which people can publicly manifest antigay sentiment.”
If one replaced “trans,” “transgender,” or “transsexual” for “gay” and “homosexual;” “antitrans sentiment” for “antigay sentiment;” and “UK” for “America,” it would no doubt be the explanation of what trans people are doing in response to language they find demeaning and/or offensive. One can rightfully say this process has for a large part worked over the decades for how western societal views have changed regarding gay people, gay community, and gay issues.
even hating myself for having “my” issues distract Real Feminists from Real Issues.
@SarahR: And I can’t help but wonder if Moore gets the irony that these ‘Real Feminists’ are probably going to wake up tomorrow and get told by left-wing men that they really need to stop getting hung up on “divisive” “distractions” like reproductive rights, affordable and accessible childcare, fighting rape culture, women’s health services, workplace gender equity and focus on REAL ISSUES. Funny how those real issues always seem to be ones of greatest concern to straight, white men. Isn’t it?
Stella – I figured that since Moore repeated and defended the “men chopping of their dicks” comment here, she wasn’t counting that as rude or offensive and I wasn’t sure whether you did or not. I’m still not!
yes I think that tweet was rude. and offensive. my reading is that SM said she agreed it was rude too. clear enough?
though I’m honestly not quite sure why what I think about everything said on twitter matters that much. I’m hardly the media-ocracy. (mediocracy?) and this is just a blog, not a national newspaper.
personally, I’ve been enlightened more by the comments and discussions here than I think anyone has by my own initial post, or the subsequent one, which also has interesting comments.
On the specific issue of the use of jargon words as if they are general terms. ‘Intersectionality’ is not a term I had heard before and I am both highly educated (Masters in Mathematics) and middle class.
Being a mathematician I have to be very careful about using jargon terms when explaining difficult concepts and it can be hard sometimes. For instance when explaining a conjecture I had about why as we know more we have more questions than we have already answered I used an analogy about blowing air into a balloon rather than going into a much shorter explanation in terms of point set topology and non-euclidean geometry that very few people would have understood.
That said I can appreciate that where a term that you understand and that your friends understand it can be tempting to use it but in a public forum like twitter it is unwise to do so especially if you want people in general to side with you in an argument.
It seems to me that a lot of people are being silenced on women’s issues and transgender issues for all genders because of an argument over whether or not internal gender identity exists. I don’t consider myself to have one and I know trans people who don’t believe they have one. If some people are convinced they do have one and so consider themselves cis women or trans women on that basis, they should do so; that doesn’t mean everyone else needs to claim to have one also or identify on the basis of one as cis, gender queer, trans etc.
The ideology of gender identity is often barely relevant or entirely irrelevant to campaigns for rights and an end to discrimination. A woman dies as a consequence of pregnancy or childbirth every 90 seconds. This used to be a women’s rights issue. When I look at the feminist tag on tumblr, I can find plenty of posts about cis sexism, but nothing really about maternal mortality rates, female genital mutilation, breast feeding discrimation or the feminization of poverty (which is connected to pregnancy and motherhood). These aren’t just problems in poorer countries – black women in the US are 3 – 4 times more likely to die for pregnancy related reasons than white US women. I find it hard not to see that defining all women by internal gender identity (whether they claim to have one or not) is leading to a lot of people trivialising, minimising or ignoring major global problems for people who have wombs, because the existence of such problems doesn’t support gender identity ideology. This was obvious in the comments responding to Moore’s article – childbirth only one day out of your life etc.
I don’t see why we cannot acknowledge that for some women, much of their struggle is to do with biological sex, while for others it is gender role and for others it is gender identity. Trying to push everyone into claiming that everyone’s problems are due to biological sex alone or gender role alone or gender identity alone is damaging. Most of the people who support the gender identity argument claim to be cis. It seems to be increasing trans phobia and not helping trans women to get adequate protection in the work place, equal medical treatment or protection from violence, and it certainly isn’t helping most other women globally either.
I don’t like the x is more important than y argument. Young women are more interested in gender identity because to them it is just as important as those other issues. It’s also because the issues you have mentioned are championed in as many spaces online as there are chips in the world and trans rights as evidenced by this entire uproar is seen a small problem in the grand scheme of things according to some. Young feminists of which I am one, tend to identity with LGBT rights as a big part of their feminist ideals because they tend to identify LGBT. Those women in that tag may be cis but that doesn’t mean they aren’t LGBP, or Q. Sexuality and gender identity are a huge part of who women are. We have to fight inward and outwards battles. As difficult as that is for some to handle. I know that means loads of extra work with big words and other things that make a struggle more difficult but you know if it helps include all women and doesn’t leave a single type of woman behind then in my mind it’s all worth it. I’d rather work harder and have better results than spend all my time in a team marathon only to get to the finish line and realize I didn’t invite any of them to participate so nobody gets a trophy but me. Seems like a hollow victory in my eyes.
Hi Megan. My intention is not to criticise young women; I am using Tumblr as illustrative of a problem I see across all English speaking feminist spaces – the focus of feminism is narrowing. There are 7.5 million search results on google for trans feminism, but a little under 2 million for childbirth feminism, so trans is clearly not some small, barely discussed issue for feminists. Hopefully there are also lots of results for other issues of pregnancy; people still seem to care about abortion rights. In fact women’s rights only has two and a half times more search results than trans rights do, despite the very small number of trans people so people in general are engaged in the issue. Tumblr feminism is a good example of that – lots on trans, rape and gender roles which are all important (although I disagree with you that there are a lot of posts on Tumblr feminism about LGB issues). I agree with you that it isn’t a case of one issue being more important than another; internal gender identity is important as is childbirth, but any debate which has as its aim the goal that all women must experience either or both of these things personally or they are oppressing other women is damaging.
We cannot have intersectionality and not include women who give birth and women who don’t, or women who have an internal gender identity and women who don’t. Unlike LGBT experiences, childbirth is, by definition, an experience of young people. Older feminists can only be allies in that; they can’t talk with experience about what it feels like to go through the contemporary maternity system in crisis in the UK where consultations are being had about rationing pain relief and where there aren’t enough midwives to provide basic care, because they’re no longer in that system; it happens only to those currently young enough to get pregnant.
Pregnancy is a young person’s issue. Death as a consequence of childbirth and pregnancy is the biggest single cause of death in all people aged 15 – 19 worldwide. There are plenty of young mothers on the pregnancy tag on Tumblr, so many young women clearly do have an interest in pregnancy! I’m not saying that any one person can give time and effort to every single issue(I’m certainly not putting that responsibility on your shoulders), but if any women’s issue is being collectively minimised, trivialised or ignored, we need to collectively ask why, and collectively do something about it.
I think ideological debates to do with sex vs. gender play a part in why some issues are being minimised, but privilege to do with class, race, poverty and disability also create a situation of feminists distancing themselves from women who do something stereotypically female like giving birth, especially if those women are too poor to have adequate health care and end up dead or disabled as a consequence. Being pregnant for 9 months, giving birth and/or being poor; they’re just not fashionable or edgy or feminist enough to warrant much of our collective attention, whether we’re old or young.
I hope that everyone can move on and learn from this. I have certainly learned a lot which is a good thing and this has been the catalyst for some great debate and sharing of ideas. It has also opened up a whole new linguistic framework some of which I am highly ambivalent about.
I would add that a ‘trans* faux pas’ is not synonymous with transphobia and we need to clear on this otherwise people will be deterred from discourse. Discourse is the only way to remove barriers, perceived or real. Demonising people on either side is totally unhelpful and counter-productive. It will not foster any understanding of opposing views nor promote greater tolerance.
I agree Alison, a ‘trans’ faux pas is not synonymous with transphobia. Just as getting the language wrong to describe people who are LGB is not homophobia. We are far too quick to condemn people for the language they use when it is apparent in so many ways that they are not ‘phobic’ in any way.
Thank you for your honesty and bravery with this post, Stella. I would kinda like to have the body of a ‘Brazilian transsexual too’ but I am learning to settle for the body of a (50-something) English one.
Amid the feelings and hurt there are still things for us all to learn. Good for you for taking on board the learning about trans killings in Brazil via Suzanne’s unfortunate remark. For myself, I’ve now learned that there is something called ‘intersectionality’ and it’s now up to me to learn what the heck it is, whether I like it, what to do with it and so on.
… is all for now. Thanks again.
I quote Ally Fogg, above: “I’ve always been a fan of Suzanne, and swapped friendly tweets with her occasionally, so this I want to be on her side. I also thought the offensiveness of the original line was pretty minimal, but like you I could just about see the perspective of the complainants too.
But what Suzanne tweeted after that, when she got angry, was overtly, gratuitously offensive to trans people and to anyone who cares about trans people, and I don’t believe for a moment that she didn’t know it – she deliberately ramped up the temperature of the argument, and a good few of those posts are simply indefensible by anyone with a passing awareness of the issues..”
Thank you, sir, for seeing the real point. Almost everyone else here is arguing against the ridiculous strawman position that the sequence of events went:
Suzanne publishes article -> twitter storm,
when the actual sequence of events was:
Suzanne publishes article -> is calmly questioned* online about it -> responds with unnecessarily disgusting and bigoted response -> twitter storm.
Anyone here who has mentioned a Brazilian transsexual is (intentionally or otherwise) missing the point. The anger didn’t come from that, it came from what happened in repsonse to that.l
* I shall here repeat the first few lines of this Twitter argument, to prove my point – this is taken from a timeline of events at http://storify.com/krasejc/what-a-few-people-said-to-suzanne-moore?utm_campaign=&awesm=sfy.co_dCwW&utm_content=storify-pingback&utm_source=direct-sfy.co&utm_medium=sfy.co-twitter
Jo: @suzanne_moore I loved your piece on anger – except for the shock transphobia (“a Brazilian transsexual”) – why on earth did you include it?
@suzanne_moore calling someone “a transsexual” is like calling someone “a gay” – really creepy. “Trans woman” would’ve been better but…
@suzanne_moore … why include it at all? It’s v weird & leaves a v nasty taste. Trans women deserve solidarity, not implicit shaming.
Suzanne: @jonanamary I use the word transexual. I use lots of ‘offensive’ words. If you want to be offended it your prerogative.
Jo: @suzanne_moore “offence” isn’t the problem. Transphobia is. Transphobia *kills*. & intersectional feminism *demands* that we be in…
@suzanne_moore …solidarity with trans* women & their cause. Pretty basic stuff. V disappointed that you delib misunderstood my point.
Suzanne: @jonanamary I dont prioritise this fucking lopping bits of your body over all else that is happening to women Intersectional enough for you?
Anyone that thinks this was a mature and measured response is delusional.
I think you’re being very reasonable, Stella.