I wrote an article this morning, and I felt moved to say more than a neutral news story will allow. It was about a debate/Twitstorm between feminist and socialist journalist Suzanne Moore, who is a role model for me, and some people who have accused her of transphobia.
Moore wrote an article in the New Statesman about female anger, appropriately as will be revealed, in which she said:
‘The cliché is that female anger is always turned inwards rather than outwards into despair. 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.’
The transphobic accusation focuses on those last two words.
My first reaction, from my privileged position as a fully-biological straight woman, was …what? that’s not offensive… a Brazilian transsexual is an apt literary example for an idealized, constructed female body… she’s not saying anything bad about them.
And I felt, as Moore expressed with exhilarating and sweary female anger on Twitter, that to focus on this was missing her point about welfare cuts in Britain affecting women.
But as I read the counter arguments, I thought again.
One was from LGBT.co.uk suggesting that it is disrespectful to flippantly reference Brazilian transexuals that way, when they are vastly overrepresented in murder statistics. Their blog post on the matter said:
‘The “Brazilian transsexual” stereotype was available to Suzanne Moore because of trans women from Brazil seeking refuge from violence and murder: meeting discrimination in Europe, but less often being simply killed.’
Another counter-Moore debate from journalist Kaite Welsh said:
‘Moore is doing the exact same thing as [David] Cameron – from her position of privilege, telling us what is and isn’t worth getting pissed off about.’
I remembered that positions of privilege should not be too quick to dismiss voices from a less privileged positions and that I come, like most people, from a position of ignorance about trans issues. Twelve months ago I had never thought much about the trans perspective at all. And what I’ve learnt over the last year working for Gay Star News has revealed that I was guilty of many (perhaps willfully) uninformed assumptions.
‘Former Sex Pistol John Lydon’s chant, “anger is an energy”, is still my cri de coeur,’ says Moore in her New Statesman article, a sentence or two before the offending words. She’s right – anger is a beautiful energy that makes us feel alive - I learnt this during AUM meditation at the Sanctuary.
But anger is also an an obstacle to being able to see another person’s point of view. Moore’s unadulterated anger defending her position was dazzling to watch, but perhaps came from a position of arrogance. Her indignation had an air of: ‘How dare you accuse me of bigotry? I’ve been a Guardian journalist for twenty years, I earned my right-on stripes while you were learning to tie your shoelaces’.
But bigotry is something we must battle against throughout our lives, even if you wrote a sympathetic piece about a transgender father in 1997. Complacency is bigotry’s best friend. They go on caravan holidays to Norfolk together and do the Daily Express crossword.
So to say, as Moore did in her Guardian column, that trans people’s concerns are ‘irrelevant’ in the face of the Tory government’s welfare cuts does seem offensive. Isn’t that like saying, we’re in the middle of a world war, it’s not the time to worry about giving women the vote. Or, we’re spreading Christian values, no time to worry about slavery. It’s being blinkered to your own moral standpoint and concerns and neglecting the concerns of people who come from a different perspective.
And Moore says she hates the word transphobia for ‘closing down discussion’. But we need a word to highlight the hatred and misunderstanding that trans people suffer when most people don’t even see it.
As Welsh points out the incident draws parallels with the Twitter storm that kicked-off when Caitlin Moran, whom I love, said that she ‘literally couldn’t give a shit’ about asking Girls creator Luna Durnham why there are no women of colour in her TV show. My friend Bim wrote a good piece about that.
Maybe the next time the old guard of funny, clever women with admirable careers receive a whiff of criticism on Twitter they should take a moment of reflection on their place in the world before rashly tweeting back at people less powerful than them.
Anyway, that’s off my chest. This blog is a funny mix between travelogue, silly photographs and LGBT debates isn’t it? Well such is my life.