Trigger warnings for discussion of transphobia
Suzanne Moore doesn’t appear to have learned anything from being called out on her transphobic comments last week. She’s returned to Twitter, all guns blazing, and written another piece in the Guardian, entitled “It saddens me that supporting freedom makes me an opponent of equality” (clean version, with no clickthroughs to the Graun here, courtesy of @helen_bop). The article is problematic through and through.
Moore argues that freedom of speech must be preserved, in the light of the debacle surrounding Julie Burchill’s slur-riddled extension of things which Moore herself had said (I collated a lot of Suzanne Moore’s comments here). Indeed, rather than distance herself from what Burchill said, Moore defends her in a paragraph which would be better suited to Spiked magazine:
And I am serious about freedom of speech. If Lynne Featherstone can call for a journalist and an editor to be sacked, this does not bode well for having politicians and lawyers running the press, does it? Do you actually want to be governed by humourless, authoritarian morons? Don’t answer that, I may be offended. You don’t commission someone like Julie Burchill to launch an Exocet missile and then say: “Oh dear, we only really wanted a sparkler.” You cannot unpublish something any more because of the internet, something that Lord Justice Leveson failed to get his considerable head round.
Furthermore, according to Moore, “people died for my right to offend you”. Here, she ignores the fact that the beliefs of hers and Julie Burchill’s she has been defending have led to the deaths of a lot of trans people. At the beginning of her latest article, Moore complains:
The wrath of the transgender community has been insane. They say I haven’t apologised enough and I probably haven’t. No one has apologised to me for saying that I should be decapitated and I support the English Defence League.
Here, she clearly implies that these insults came from the trans community. Maybe some of it did, but it is a complete lie to suggest that the comment about the EDL came from trans people or allies: here’s the tweet. One trans activist pointed this fact out to Suzanne Moore and promptly got blocked.
It’s not acceptable to scapegoat a vulnerable minority for something which was nothing to do with them. It’s downright fucking dangerous.
Tonight, there was a demo at the Guardian and Observer HQ to protest the publication of hateful, bigoted, transphobic articles, with particular focus on Burchill’s piece. Later that evening, Suzanne Moore would be speaking at a publicly event which had been heavily promoted on the social media, which those attending an already-organised protest may have been interested in picketing. I promoted the Guardian demo, and someone else tweeted about the Soho Skeptics event. Moore decided to RT these as an example of some sort of “bullying”:
Following this, my mentions were inundated with Moore’s supporters lambasting me for being “threatening” by promoting a vigil against transphobia, or attempting to ridicule me for having nothing better to do with my time. As a matter of fact, I had plenty of things I’d rather be doing that evening, like rewatching Battlestar Galactica or fucking or something, but nothing more important than standing in solidarity with trans people harmed by mainstream columnists engaging in hate speech. I’m cis, and I have the luxury of being able to walk away from this at any time I like, as it does not affect me personally. I do not feel it’s right to take this route, though (if however, my trans comrades feel it would be better if I stopped engaging in this, I will respect these wishes).
I went to the demo at the Guardian offices, and nobody picketed the Soho Skeptics event, because protest is a cold, tiring business. As far as I’m aware, the Soho Skeptics event went smoothly, uninterrupted by any mention of the psychological harms inflicted by Suzanne Moore and the imaginary trans cabal never did make good on the imaginary threats they imaginarily made. The demo was attended by a mixed bunch–trans people, radical queers, allies. It was angry and sad all at once, as speeches reflected on trans oppression. One trans activist took to the megaphone and delivered a beautiful, eloquent speech on the inequality of platforms.
She spoke about how cis columnists and journalists have the platform and the power to spread dangerous myths and lies about trans people. Meanwhile, the trans community does not have the same opportunity to rebut this misinformation. They do not have the platform, while those with it abuse it. She spoke of how the demo was an expression of free speech.
Which is exactly what it was. Those same people who died for Moore’s right to offend also died for our right to offend Suzanne Moore by holding demos. It was an attempt to address this inequality of platform. Far from being threatening, it was a public attempt at holding people and institutions accountable for the wrongs they have committed. They probably do find this somewhat threatening, many being used to not having to hear criticism, particularly not as instantaneously as in the digital age. Yet it is a different threat entirely to the mainstream media closing ranks against an oppressed minority: this is where the harm came from, and it will continue to do so until they change.
It’s mighty disingenous of Suzanne Moore to claim to believe in free speech, yet continue to play the victim when those she upset hold her accountable. This, too, is free speech, it’s just words she doesn’t want to hear. She has the platform and the power to obfuscate the truth, while those she has harmed cannot so readily make their voices heard.
It’s a ghastly imbalance, and I cannot see it being righted any time soon. There’s too much structural bullshit to tear down. It’s not an unreasonable request to ask those with the power and the platform to use this responsibly, to try to avoid contributing further to this oppressive system. It’s not an infringement of free speech to try to hold those who do express harmful views to account. It’s a way of chipping away at a crack and letting the light get in.
I’m furious that in 2013, rather than living in cloud cities with our robot friends, we’re not even fighting to gain ground, but to hold the measly little patch that we’ve got.