Sunday, January 13, 2013

How do we deal with transphobia when it screams at us from the Observer?

There's quite a lot in this article by Suzanne Moore that I can agree with. She outlines the underlying anger many women feel at the barriers they face in life, from discrimination to physical and sexual abuse, to the pressures to conform to a certain body type. It's the latter comment that got her into trouble. She could have made the same point without making a blatantly transphobic description.

Unsurprisingly, trans people and those who support them were none too pleased. Twitter turned into a fireball and Moore, not known for being shy and retiring, quit, making another highly offensive transphobic comment as she did so and blaming the trans community for bullying her. Challenging someone's offensive remarks is not bullying.

Moore and her journalistic colleagues Julie Bindel and Julie Burchill are a bit like those sorts of feminists I came across in the 1980s. Unless you agreed with them 100% about what oppression meant, you could not be a feminist. To me, wanting a world where women have genuinely equal opportunities in education, work, life in general, are free from domestic and sexual abuse and are free to make their own life choices qualifies you as a feminist. You may not see every issue in quite the same way - for example, you may favour all women shortlists and positive discrimination, or you may not. That's fine. But then, Moore, Burchill and Bindel come from an authoritarian tradition, I come from a liberal one.

Some feminists can be pretty cruel to trans people, treating trans women as a subset of the patriarchy who have found a new way to oppress them. I've always found it strange when one group who claims to want equality finds it acceptable to use oppressive and hate-filled language towards another. If I have to sign up to that sort of stuff to be a feminist, then count me out. I'd rather try empathy and understanding. It's much more constructive in my book.

But, thankfully, Moore and Co, don't own feminism. They do, sadly, have a high profile in the media and they are using that to do some real damage to transgender people, who already face a higher likelihood of being attacked, or murdered as this Reuters article shows. Being on the receiving end of abuse takes its toll. A shocking study showed last year that over 40% of trans people questioned have not only felt suicidal but have actually attempted suicide. It can't do much for your self confidence if you pick up the Guardian or go on Twitter and see yourself described in hate-filled language.

I thought long and hard about whether to actually link to the deeply offensive article that Julie Burchill wrote in today's Observer, basically talking about how much a mate Moore is and how they'd dined on champagne and lobster together. This is the same woman who wants a ban on young posh kids getting any job that's fun and well paid while she has fun picking on all sorts of people and getting paid for it. She goes on to use the most ignorant language imaginable, conjuring up every single stereotype. But I decided to link to it in the same spirit that I once linked to the Westboro Baptist Church - so you could, if you chose, see the actual hate that's out there. If you think reading it would damage or cause you harm, please don't click on the link. I can't read it without feeling sick, but I think it's important that I do. It should motivate you to try to do something about this sort of prejudice. Here it is. Come back when you've finished.

What strikes me is that the strapline is "It's never a good idea for those who feel oppressed to start bullying others in turn." Which is exactly what she then does, at length and quite obscenely. If she had gone on tv and said the same sort of stuff about people from a particular ethnic background, she would have, should have, been sacked. The howls of protest would have been audible from Uranus.

But what can we do about it? A firestorm on the internet is never the way forward. Don't get me wrong, people have a right to be angry, but once the flames die down, and we're in a really dark place, how do we tackle the prejudice? How do we make the world a more tolerant place?

Prejudice and discrimination are borne of ignorance, so the first thing we need to do is inform. If everyone reading this posted one thing every day for the next week that would add to greater understanding of trans people then that might get some good stuff out there to dilute the bile. I couldn't pretend to speak for trans people in any way, but there's no way I'm going to stand by and watch any group of people put up with such hatred which they are often powerless to do anything about. Does that sound like a good plan? Do you want to join me? Can you think of anything else we should be doing?

Let's start with something very credible, something everybody trusts. The NHS. What resources do they have for transgender people? Have a look at this and particularly listen to Jay's story. They also link to the site of a charity, Mermaids, who help young people and their parents.

Jennie has also written about this, as eloquently as ever. Something she said in the comments struck a chord;
The problem is that when you have two groups who both have a legitimate claim to oppression the instinct seems to be to attack each other rather than bonding together against the actual oppressors.
Now, some people's minds won't be changed - the likes of Burchill is just out to provoke and stir, an internet troll legitimised by an increasingly discredited news rag. But there are some nice people out there who express some pretty transphobic views. Theirs are the hearts and minds we should be trying to win over. That will deprive those who would spread hate of their market. I don't expect this to happen overnight, but if we don't each make an effort to combat prejudice, it'll thrive.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

After looking at several articles on this controversy, I still don't understand what was offensive about the phrase in the original article. Can you explain, please?


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