Don't get mad, get even: Paris Lees responds to Julie Burchill's attack about the concept of intersectionality

The acclaimed transgender rights activist topped The Independent on Sunday's 2013 Pink List. But last week she and journalist Julie Burchill had a tempestuous debate about the ways in which different forms of discrimination, such as race, gender and class, interlock

On Wednesday, I made the mistake of taking part in a podcast debate with Julie Burchill for The Spectator. What followed was a harangue from Burchill about why the world had gone to pot because of the left constantly slanging itself. Not that I class Burchill as “the left” any more, mind, but I’m sure that the staunchly feminist gentlemen at the magazine were delighted. I tried hard to play my assigned part but all that came out were inanities. I was crap, frankly. Silly me for not realising that she’d planned a good, old-fashioned personal attack.

When the podcast went live I had the same feeling that I’d had when I threw a plate at the wall during a particularly loud and pointless argument with my boyfriend and realised, to my horror, that the neighbours were in. I’d like to forget about both incidents, but there are more important issues than my pride. So let’s clear a few things up.

Intersectionality is a fairly unattractive word to describe a fairly useful concept. People face multiple forms of prejudice and intersectionality is simply about recognising the difference, say, between being called a “slag” and being called a “black slag”. Burchill says she doesn’t “like” intersectionality – but it’s not a case of liking. You either accept that some people have more to struggle against than you, or you don’t. And you either wish to help them, or you don’t. What she really means is that she doesn’t like transgender people objecting to her cruel and inaccurate jokes – just as some people say they “don’t like” political correctness because really they don’t like gay people asking to be treated with respect.

Burchill misrepresented several of my views. I have never, for example, accused Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore of being a transphobe. In an open letter to Moore last year I made clear that I admire her but was disappointed by her reaction to criticism on Twitter following an unfortunate joke she made about transgender women. Burchill also accused me of being a privileged graduate who probably spent my time at university learning academic jargon at sit-down protests. The truth is that I’m even more common than she is and turned to prostitution to put myself through higher education. It was more “lie down” than “sit-in”.

Solidarity, the sort that Burchill says her dad believed in, was about everyone who was less well-off helping each other to achieve a more equal society. It’s a lovely idea but it wasn’t always successful. Increasing rights for workers didn’t necessarily apply to women, for example.

These days, thankfully, we generally tend to listen to marginalised groups about what they believe will improve their lives. Life has been better for many trans people since we were given the same human rights as everybody else with the passing, 10 years ago, of the Gender Recognition Act. This would never have happened if a few inspirational trans people had not demanded that politicians hear their concerns.

Sadly, listening isn’t a strong point for Burchill and her friend [writer, feminist and Justice for Women co-founder] Julie Bindel who, just like those who try to force people to stop being gay, insist that people like me should stop being trans.

A few years ago, as a headstrong young journalist, I wrote a blog called “Julie Bindel’s Genitals”. It wasn’t about her genitals at all, it simply argued that everyone’s private parts deserve to be private. Bindel was rightly outraged that her genitals might be seen as a subject for public speculation – while remaining seemingly blind to her own assumption that trans people’s genitals are hers to discuss whenever she feels like it.

On Road, the organisation that manages All About Trans (a project that introduces media professionals to young trans people), also works with homeless people, undocumented migrants, travellers and people with mental health issues. Intersectionality isn’t a competition, it is about promoting equal rights for everyone. I suspect that Burchill knows that, deep down, and couldn’t care less.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the world's leading suppliers and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Day In a Page

The super-rich now live in their own Elysium - they breathe better air, and eat better food, when they're not making beans on toast for their kids

The super-rich now live in their own Elysium

They breathe better air, eat better food, take better medicine
A generation of dropouts failed by colleges

Dropout generation failed by colleges

£800m a year wasted on students who quit courses before they graduate
Entering civilian life 'can be like going into the jungle' for returning soldiers

Homeless Veterans appeal

Entering civilian life can be like going into the jungle
Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Fifty Shades of Grey director on bringing the hit to the screen
Shazam! Story of the $1bn 'what's that song?' app

Shazam: Story of the $1bn 'what's that song?' app

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch