Please, No Moore: a snapshot of transphobia in Britain’s broadsheets

[A guest post by genderqueer activist Hyosho]

TRIGGER WARNING: Multiple links to transphobic articles and statements, some of them extreme, esp. those authored by Burchill.


If you’re UK-based or keep up with trans issues on the web, you’ve probably come across at least some of the fallout from the recent storm over articles by Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill in the Guardian and the Observer. Reaction to these articles and comments made by Moore on Twitter have touched off a firestorm of debate about trans issues that swept rapidly across the media, touching off related debates on internet “bullying”, free speech, feminism, “infighting” on the left and media visibilty for trans people.

Various commentators, some with high profile platforms in the national media, weighed into the fray, and some people desperate to show off their liberal credentials revealed their innate transphobia. After spending a lot of time over the last few days ranting and chopping down ancient, tired, transphobic and cissexist arguments, I wanted somewhere to set out a timeline of the whole furore and work out where we now stand.

On Tuesday the 8th of January, the New Statesman published an article by Suzanne Moore (actually republished from a print anthology of women’s writing from last year) on the necessity for anger directed in a feminist way. It was relatively unobjectionable, making several important points, save for one stand-out 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.

Before I move on to what happens next, it’s worth noting what’s actually wrong with this line. It is not (as many, many, people said) the fact that Brazil has the highest reported rate of assault and murder for trans people in the world. This is a related issue which speaks to a lack of intersectional understanding, but it is not the primary problem. The main issue is that it is dehumanising – it posits a stereotype as the norm, and uses it for a punchline. Moore is relying on the reader’s mental image of a transsexual woman for her joke’s humour and force, assuming that her reader shares her prejudices and preconceptions, mainly that a “Brazilian transsexual” is a) a trans woman, b) of a particular physical appearance, and most importantly c) not a real woman. Moore’s “Brazilian transsexual” is not a woman who happens to be trans, but a transsexual-as-noun, a formulation as offensive as “a black” or “a gay” and this should be held in mind going forward to look at some of the reactions below.

Moore was then criticised by several people on twitter who pointed out why this was an unfortunate choice of phrase, and here I’ll hand over to a leftytgirl’s timeline because the sequence of events is crucial.

The three standout tweets here are:

I dont prioritise this fucking lopping bits of your body over all else that is happening to women Intersectional enough for you?

I dont even accept the word transphobia any more than Islamaphobia You are using ‘intersectionality’ to shut down debate. Its bollocks.

and:

People can just fuck off really. Cut their dicks off and be more feminist than me. Good for them.

Moore, ever since this exchange, has painted herself as a victim of bullying, subject to vicious attacks and death threats because of this one “throwaway comment” about Brazilian transsexuals. Not once in either of her published defences (see below) does she mention the escalation of her rhetoric from inadvertent casual transphobia to overtly transphobic language in response to a relatively gentle call-out. She also pulled out an Indy article from 1997 which refers to hermaphroditic worms and freshly-mutilated bodies as evidence of her LACK of transphobia…

Moore’s most visible response, though, was this article in the Guardian of Wednesday 9th Jan (note the quick turnaround time) which was really where it all kicked off. Moore is highly disingenuous here, farting privilege in all directions like some sort of collapsing cis Hindenburg. Firstly, she establishes that she can’t be transphobic because she wanted to have sex with David Bowie, once met some (exotic) trans women, and did “a lot of queer studies”, before going on to spout yet more boring transphobic cliches about trans people, including the classic radfem dogma that transsexual people somehow reinforce gender norms (as if cis people are somehow all wonderful genderfluid snowflakes). Finally she finished off with a wonderful bravura performance of that old privilege classic: “why aren’t we talking about what REALLY matters – the economy! Or possibly rape in India. Or maybe the Tories! Anything but the thing I’ve been accused of doing!”

Understandably this cemented what most of us already knew, that Moore was one of a particular breed of self-described feminists, cis, white, middle-class-claiming-working-class-roots, utterly convinced that their prejudice was actually solid feminist principle, and therefore sure in their conviction that anyone who disagreed with them must be anti-feminist. There it might have lain, until for some baffling reason, the Observer (the Guardian’s sister Sunday paper, technically a separate entity, but practically strongly linked in both the public mind and sharing offices and a website) decided to publish a hate-filled screed from Julie Burchill on Sunday January the 13th. The piece drew over 2000 comments in one day, several PCC and police complaints for hate speech, and was eventually pulled down by the editor (it remains to be seen if this Sunday’s printed Observer will contain an apology) with a weaselly statement that can be seen here.
While most people agreed that this was naked clickbait designed to drive traffic, the overt discriminatory language displayed in this piece raised connected issues with regards to hate speech and incitement, and several commentators noted that, even as a deliberately “controversial” piece designed to attract negative comments and attention, it would never have been approved for publication in the first place had it refered to any other marginalised group.

Several more right-wing publications and writers immediately went with the “censorship” line, especially after Lynne Featherstone (the laughably ineffectual former minister for equality and current minister for international development) called for her to be sacked and for the Observer editor, John Mulholland, to resign. Prominent among this mob was shameless self-promoting half-man half-frog Toby Young, who immediately leapt on the chance to [MAJOR TRIGGER WARNING] republish Burchill’s article on his Telegraph blog[MAJOR TRIGGER WARNING], which also featured the usual gleeful handrubbing about fractious lefties (such as this horribly hateful article by Rod Liddle, which, bizarrely, more accurately identifies the reason Moore’s language was offensive than most people managed.

The Independent ran an opportunistic poll on whether her (scare quotes!) “transphobic” comments went too far (as if there was an acceptable level of transphobia!) declining to mention they had employed Burchill for a year and a half to write precisely the same kind of attention-grabbing rants, and were quite happy to give space to Moore’s original 1997 transphobic article dressed up as concern for trans rights, as well as an opinion piece on the 15th by Tony Peck which was overtly transphobic.

Depressing as all this was, it did give rise to some comment that was, more or less, enlightening. Here, in no particular order, are people smarter and more articulate than me discussing various aspects of these events:

(The latter are two of the best pieces on the original Moore response in my opinion, identifying the major issues and problems that it brought to the surface.)

  • Trans journalist Paris Lees’ polite response written before Moore decided to triple-down on everything. Paris Lees was due to debate Moore on C4 news, but Moore chickened out, so instead of interviewing Lees about trans issues, they dropped the piece altogether. (Can’t discuss racism without a racist to provide balance!)

Further developments: First, Moore (who had quit Twitter), briefly returned to give this non-apology apology (still marked as an apology in this headline, despite the fact that Moore stated categorically that she had NOT apologised), once again refusing to acknowledge her most transphobic remarks and painting herself as a victim of unprovoked attacks. Julie Bindel (another transphobic radfem with a long history, but canny enough to be more circumspect in her recent writing) denounces the “trans cabal” “bullying” Moore.

Moore has now published a second Guardian article today (17th Jan) which again paints herself as a victim and the only person concerned about the real issues. She also still refuses to acknowledge her transphobic tweets, pretending everything has been about the “Brazilian transsexual” line.

UPDATE: Hyosho writes: I’ve just realised that in concentrating on Moore, I’ve skipped over some context. This last week, in response to the prosecution (some might say persecution, with some justification) of a trans doctor by the GMC for treating trans people, a hashtag #transdocfail was launched, for trans people to tweet about their mistreatment at the hands of the wider medical community.

http://www.complicit…cfail-lowlight/ (HUGE trigger warning for any trans people who’ve had bad experiences with the medical community, i.e. all of us)

Also relevant to the generally terrible state of trans representation in all sections of the media was this fantastic post about trans “regret” and why it’s bullshit even though it seems to be a mandatory topic in every story about trans people: http://maeveregan.co…5/trans-regret/

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5 Comments on “Please, No Moore: a snapshot of transphobia in Britain’s broadsheets”

  1. […] MacKinnon, reporter for The Morning Star, writes for Media Darlings “Please no Moore: A snapshot of transphobia in Britain’s broadsheets”, explaining the issue with Moore’s original […]

  2. kathryn Mackinnon says:

    SHINE ON!!!! Mum

  3. […] This was written early in 2013, and published on Rory MacKinnon’s blog, I’m reposting it here as the first coherent piece I wrote on feminism and […]

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