British Transphobia – Alive and Well: Burchill & Moore
Last month, British journalist Suzanne Moore published an article in the New Statesman about female anger. The main point of her article was how, in her opinion, women tend to turn anger in at themselves instead of projecting it outward and targetting the source:
“We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape—that of a Brazilian transsexual.”
While invoking the image of “a Brazilian transsexual” was not her intention (I can only assume), Moore has unleashed a heady storm of controversy. Moore’s seemingly flippant use of the phrase has been seen by the trans community as offensive.
As is the trend, the controversy spilled onto twitter and escalated from there. The following pictures are from storify and show in more detail the tweets that went back and forth between Moore and her critics.
The twitter backlash moved Moore to delete her account and prompted her mate Julie Burchill (another British journalist) to write an article in British newspaper, the Observer.
While the Observer has since deleted it, you can find it reprinted in the Telegraph, here. Bindle’s article defended Moore against increasing criticism and what she felt was bullying by the trans community.
What this reveals to me, is that the UK is way behind in trans rights and even in understanding the appropriate language to describe transgendered people. The recent furor surrounding Caitlin Moran reveals this as well. Even our most feminist journalists have yet to adapt politically correct language when dealing with trans men and women. Unlike Burchill and Moore, Moran has apologised for her use of the word “tranny” and has educated herself about appropriate language in the trans community.
Julie Burchill decided to take the opposite approach to Moran. Burchill used a litany of offensive language, including such gems as “I nevertheless felt indignant that a woman of such style and substance should be driven from her chosen mode of time-wasting by a bunch of dicks in chick’s clothing.” The entire article makes me cringe with shame.
Julie Burchill and Suzanne Moore have apparently taken it upon themselves to define what a woman is. Trans gendered men and women, seem not to be included in the list – with Bindle comparing transexuals to “Black & White Minstrels” and “screaming-mimis.”
Burchill has also attempted to turn this into a class argument, claiming that because she and Moore are of humble beginnings, there is no way they can be accused of white privilege. Or, to quote from her article “And we are damned if we are going to be accused of being privileged by a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs.”
Burchill isn’t doing herself, or feminism any big favours here. She ends her article on an almost violent tone, again involving derogatory terms, stating “Shims, shemales, whatever you’re calling yourselves these days – don’t threaten or bully we lowly natural-born women, I warn you.”
Throughout all of this, there is an implicit hierarchy being enforced by Burchill, Moore and co. That “natural born” women, are somehow more woman, than trans women; that those on the lower ranks on the female ladder can just shut it when those higher-ups want to slag them off.
Burchill and Moore are forgetting one very important point. Not all trans people identify as female. There are a wider range of self identifying monikers than ever, and surely if one is going to write about them in a journalistic capacity – perhaps taking the time to seek out the knowledge to write with authority would be appropriate? This is all connected to the lack of the feminist journalists in the UK to fully understand the idea of intersectionality. That’s not to say that all feminist journalists are like this. Roz Kaveney, also writing in the Guardian, explained it so perfectly that it’s hard to see where Moore and Burchill are getting it wrong.
“Moore and Burchill seem to have a weird objection to anything they think of as intellectualising. Intersectionality is not hard to understand – it’s the simple observation that most people having a bad time in this society are getting it in the neck for several things at once, and the way we write about oppression needs to address that. This is not weird PhD fodder discourse; just a new vocabulary of tact.”
The Observer has since withdrawn Burchill’s article saying:
“We have decided to withdraw from publication the Julie Burchill comment piece ‘Transsexuals should cut it out’. The piece was an attempt to explore contentious issues within what had become a highly-charged debate. The Observer is a paper which prides itself on ventilating difficult debates and airing challenging views. On this occasion we got it wrong and in light of the hurt and offence caused I apologise and have made the decision to withdraw the piece. The Observer Readers’ Editor will report on these issues at greater length.”
I am Founder & Director at Hollaback! Belfast. I have a Master’s Degree in History and Gender & Women’s Studies from the University of Wyoming. My academic work focuses on the role of women in post-conflict societies, with a particular focus on grass roots activism. I write for a number of feminist leaning blogs, am active in local feminist groups in Northern Ireland and an active speaker on Women & LGBTQ rights.