To Julie Burchill, Suzanne Moore and all feminists: The absence of trans people in the media is as important as the absence of women in the media

This week has seen feminists such as Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill fail to support trans people - but we should be supporting them

Share

The recent, controversial comments about transgender people by the usually fabulous Suzanne Moore, are just the tip of this particular iceberg.

Given the prominence of feminists like Moore and, then later, Julie Bindel, and finally, Julie Burchill – feminists who, whether intentionally or otherwise, come out with statements about trans people that are deeply discomforting to many of their own supporters, the time has come for feminists to actively speak up about the shameful and sometimes deliberate failure to engage with, listen to, and support trans people within our own communities.  

Suzanne Moore may or may not have intended any offense with her original comments, and it’s easy to see how when someone is on the end of a twitter-storm, they might lose their cool a bit. But even to the most generous mind, Julie Burchill’s defence of her friend in the Guardian can’t be explained as anything other than deliberate bigotry.  She deliberately called trans people “dicks in chicks’ clothing”, she deliberately decided to trivialise the protests from trans people against those who deny they even exist, she deliberately dismissed the right to define yourself as you are instead of having it dictated by others as “semantics.”

People cannot help their ignorance, but Julie Burchill isn’t ignorant. She’s an educated person. She has thought actively about sex, gender and sexuality for years; it’s not that she’s never met a trans person or thought about what it must be like to go through something so lonely and terrifying as gender reassignment surgery. Those people, the ones who are ignorant or naïve or ill-informed, perhaps we should have some sympathy with. But that’s not Burchill. She has the luxury of awareness and education. She still seems to choose to be transphobic.  

Enough is enough. Trans women have been excluded from female spaces, portrayed as predatory, called traitors and perpetuators of patriarchy, accused of having male privilege, had their surgery compared with gay cure therapy, and, of course, constantly been on the receiving end of that boring old chesnut hurled, at some point, at pretty much anyone who ever speaks out about anything, ever: accusations of “distracting” from the “real” issues.

Yet surely we ought to be natural allies. Not only does transphobia shine bright lights on sexist assumptions about us all and help so often to show them up as inaccurate nonsense, but trans people live through a reality of gender-based oppression that most cis women can barely imagine. We should be on their side. Far from its victims being part of the problem, the culture that facilitates transphobia is so very often the same culture that perpetuates sexism.

The objectification and fetishisation of female bodies paves the way for the objectification and fetishisation of trans bodies. Gendered harassment and violence directed at trans people –a 2009 UCU report into transphobic hate crime estimated at least two deaths a month in Europe, and that trans women are more likely to experience it than trans men  – exists in a culture depressingly used to accepting gendered harassment as a normal part of life.

If we think we have problems getting the male-dominated police or courts to listen when we report assaults, rapes, and harassment, how can we be comfortable that a trans person will be listened to within the same systems? There have certainly been studies to suggest that they are not.

And if men legislating over women’s bodies, because women are still all too often seen as “other,” is a priority for feminism, surely cis people, usually men, legislating and assessing the conditional basis for gender reassignment surgery is another side of the same coin in this unholy mess? Surely the absence of trans people in the media is as important as the absence of women in the media; that the objectification of us all in popular culture can only addressed with us supporting each other?

Just look at the disparity between the coverage given to the recent story about Dr Richard Curtis receiving complaints over his handling of gender reassignment surgery cases, even though the accusations, held up against the WPATH guidelines, do not necessarily even indicate malpractice, with the quiet shrugging off of the terrible experiences detailed by numerous trans patients, treated by cis doctors, which activist and Lib Dem councilor Sarah Brown collected in a twitter hashtag #TransDocFail.

Why the silence about this abuse of our sisters from so many feminists? Perhaps it is, in part, because the very notion of gender reassignment challenges some feminist notions about gender more than we’re comfortable with? After all, much of modern feminism centres around the sensible premise that men and women are actually not as different as societal engineering would have us believe. While that’s undoubtedly true, the very fact that somebody’s true gender can be different than the sex of the body they are born into proves that there are some fundamental differences between what it means to be a woman, and what it means to be a man, which go beyond the coincidence of genitalia at birth.

When you are in the majority or a societal grouping which is considered to be the default norm, it’s easy to think it’s only “others” who keep bringing up the importance of lived experience, in contradiction with your impartial ideology or philosophy. When we’re not marginalised, we don’t see how much of the politics, history, philosophy, theology, and sometimes even science we take for granted as empirical takes into consideration our own life experience automatically.

The projection of academic ideology on to minorities and marginalised groups, in denial of their own lived experience, is the very thing that feminists have been battling for centuries. You’d think we’d be more sympathetic when other minority groups tell us that we’re guilty of the same thing.  It’s about time we were.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The leak of Jennifer Lawrence's nude photos isn't her fault. But try telling that to the internet's idiots

Grace Dent
US first lady Michelle Obama (2nd L) and her mother Marian Robinson (L) share a light moment with Chinese President Xi Jinping (2nd R) and his wife Peng Liyuan  

Europe now lags behind the US and China on climate change. It should take the lead once more

Joss Garman
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor