CN: transphobia and transphobia-related issues. Also dick jokes.
So here was a recent thing.
On January 8th, Suzanne Moore published a piece in the New Statesman called “Seeing Red: The Power of Female Anger.”
And it was good. No, really – it was a decent piece. Made some good points. I don’t know if I’d call it “powerful,” but it was a good piece.
And then out of nowhere comes this line: “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.”
What did this have to do with the piece? Why was this necessary?
In case you’re not clear on why this was bad, let’s start from the top and work our way down. First of all, it plays into the tired old mold of valuing some women at the expense of other women. In this particular case, it’s demonizing women who have culturally-considered “ideal” bodies, as if self-esteem were a zero-sum game. I am all about teaching women to love themselves no matter what shape their body is, but the way to do this is NOT implying that women who have “perfect” bodies, whether they grew it themselves, had help from hormones, or had cosmetic surgery, are therefore bad and should be blamed or dismissed. Sentences like these sound nastily like “We REAL women shouldn’t compare ourselves to THOSE women!” And it is pretty nasty, no matter who THOSE women are – if she’d singled out fashion models, porn stars, or Hollywood actresses, it’d still be pretty darn nasty.
Instead, she specifically chose to single out – and dismiss – women who are a) transgender and b) Brazilian. And this is where it gets especially problematic. Because transgender women are already facing a tremendous amount of marginalization. They get all the marginalization of being trans AND of being female, all at once! Whee! Choosing transwomen as your negative example just smacks of kicking someone when they’re down. (Not to mention the Unfortunate Implication that transwomen are, therefore, not Real Women. An accusation that transwomen have to put up with all the damn time.)
Furthermore, as Monica over at Transgriot points out, Brazilian transwomen especially catch more than their fair share of violence. These are women who are quite literally being murdered for who and what they are – and you’re turning them into a punchline?
And here’s the thing – I get it. Sometimes you say shit and you don’t think it through. The line’s pretty punchy; I can see writing that and going “hey, that makes the point pretty well.” And then just not thinking about how it’s going to sound because, well, you’re not transgender and you don’t have to think about it all the time. It’s called showing your ass in public, and I’ve done it. Everyone’s done it. Everyone’s had that moment where, in all unthinking innocence, they said something hurtful and made themselves look like ignorant bigots.
But – as I pointed out in my last post – the big question then is – what are you going to do next?
What Suzanne Moore did, in point of fact, was throw a fit. She complained about how mean and nasty the transgender community was being – well, I’m sure they were. The line was, after all, pretty hurtful if you take a moment to think about it. Then it got nasty.
Things that got said (in addition to flat-out refusing to apologize):
“I don’t prioritise this fucking lopping bits off your body over all else that is happening to women.” Ok, well, no one’s asking you to prioritize it. Transgender issues aren’t at the top of your list, that’s fine. But there’s a difference between not prioritizing something and actively attacking it. You can discuss other feminist issues without resorting to random racism and transphobia.
“!) People can just fuck off really. Cut their dicks off and be more feminist than me. Good for them.” Really? You have NO idea how you might possibly have come off as transphobic? Must be a mystery.
“I use the word transsexual. I use lots of ‘offensive’ words. If you want to be offended it [‘s] your prerogative.” Seriously, someone who claims to be feminist ought to have a better understanding of privilege than this. “I’m going to use any hurtful word I feel like using, and if you’re hurt it’s your own fault.” Telling a marginalized group which words you’re going to use to describe them and dismissing them when they tell you a word is hurtful is an abuse of privilege. If you know the word’s offensive, you don’t use it unless you’re actually TRYING to offend people – and then you have to own the fact that you’re being a jerk.
And my personal favorite: “read my essay. It is NOT about trans anything. Are you utterly thick? Dont bother answering that.”
We know the essay’s not about trans anything. That’s precisely WHY it’s so egregious that you stuck a random transphobic comment in the middle of it.
Zero Punctuation had a beautiful metaphor about situations like this – sticking your dick in the pudding. “It may be a perfectly good pudding, but nobody wants to eat it now because you stuck your dick in it!”
See, that’s what you did when you decided to throw random transphobia and racism into an otherwise good essay. The rest of the essay may be a perfectly good essay, but nobody wants to read it now because you stuck your dick in it.
Now, you can whine about how unfair and mean it is that nobody wants to eat dick-tainted pudding… or you could, y’know, LISTEN, apologize, and attempt to refrain from sticking your dick into any more puddings. (Wow, for a post about feminism this has turned decidedly phallic…)
It would have been really, really easy to react to the first angry responses by saying “Wow, I kinda screwed that up, guys. Sorry. I was trying to make a point, but I didn’t stop to think that I’d be hurting people by doing so. I’ll admit I haven’t thought too much about this issue, but maybe I should – transgender women are facing the same things ciswomen are, after all, and the last thing I need to be doing is making life harder for them. In the spirit of the rest of the essay, I’ll try to work harder at valuing ALL women.” And that, I think, would likely have been the end of it. A few outliers would still be mad, but most people would go “Eh, she showed her ass in public, but she owned up to it and apologized, moving on.” But she didn’t. She dug in her heels, defended her statement, and in doing so revealed some even uglier attitudes. And while she did eventually apologize, it came across as “Hey, yeah, I shouldn’t have said that, but wow, I feel really misrepresented too. Guess I just shouldn’t speak freely anymore. And yeah, I got nasty, but that’s because they attacked me first! Oh well, at least the GOOD trans people weren’t mad at me.”
…Which brings us to Julie Burchill. Who decided to chime in on the topic with a nice long love letter to hate speech. (The article and its comments has since been removed, a decision which I’m torn between considering the right thing to do, or kinda cowardly – but if you particularly want to read it, it’s here.)
I… I don’t even know how to begin addressing this, other than to say WTF is wrong with you? Where on earth did you get it into your head that this is an okay way to talk to people? I… that piece is just pure nast from front to finish, and I don’t even have the energy to begin picking it apart.
Although I will address this part: “(I know that’s a wrong word, but having recently discovered that their lot describe born women as ‘Cis’ – sounds like syph, cyst, cistern; all nasty stuff – they’re lucky I’m not calling them shemales. Or shims.)” Ok, first of all, you did go on to call them both of those words later in the post. Second of all… seriously?
…Ok, I’ll play. “Cis” sounds like syph, cyst, cistern. Sure. It also sounds like sister, Sistine Chapel, sylph, sysadmin… look, it’s a damn WORD. It sounds like itself. And it’s a pretty useful word, as the alternatives are things like “real women/normal women,” (which are pretty damn othering), “women who were assigned to the female gender at birth and also identify with it” (which is a mouthful), and “women-born-women” (which, in addition to being co-opted by transphobic radical feminists, is also impossibly twee.) I’m cisgender. I’m a ciswoman. I’m also a white woman, an American woman, a married woman. These are descriptors. Not insults. (Unless you really truly think having what kind of woman you are noted in conversation to be offensive, in which case can we just call transwomen “women” too, then? I think that would be nice.)
And in addition to being outraged on the behalf of the transgender community, I’m also pretty annoyed about this because of how it paints feminism. See, I’m a feminist. I hang out with feminists, I read blogs written by feminists. I talk about feminism, and I’m going to raise my daughter to be feminist. I think feminism is pretty damn important. And the feminists I know, the ones I’ve been learning from and engaging with? They do not do this shit. They do not act like it’s ok to do this shit. I absorbed intersectionality as part and parcel of feminism, and if any one person can’t fight all the battles all at once, at the very least they can keep from stepping on other marginalized people’s toes while they fight their own battles. And so when I see someone using the feminist badge to demean and further marginalize someone else, it makes me pretty damn pissed off, because it taints the whole movement and the rest of us have to fight double-hard to be taken seriously.
You’re sticking your dick in my feminism.