Monday 21 January 2013

They've got form (Part II)

Being in the main a compendium of links about l'Affaire Burchill.

The most helpful one I think is Julie Burchill, transphobia and hostility towards the victims of oppression. Tellingly, it's in the Grauniad's Science section.
The recent media furore over an article by Julie Burchill has brought to light prejudice against transgender individuals among people who should know better. But this tendency to demonise the victims of unfair treatment is a well established phenomenon
It ends thus:
But If I was going to try and explain all possible reasons for this animosity toward trans people, this blogpost would run into the terabytes. There are so many social, psychological and countless other factors in play, it would be like trying to untangle a ball of Christmas tree lights the size of the moon. I just offer the above rationalisations as possible explanations for illogical transphobia. Of course, some people are just bastards, let's not forget that.
I don't have any ideological or personal involvement with the whole debacle that occurred recently, and I'm certainly not making any expert pronouncements on what's happening. I'm a behavioural neuroscientist who works in mental health, and I just saw supposedly intelligent people behaving in ways that seemed illogical, even hypocritical, and I thought I'd offer a possible explanation as to why. But obviously things are a lot more complex.
I'm also a Guardian blogger though, and not even a serious one (I usually write about boobs or moustaches). But given that it was Burchill's article that caused so much offence, and the Guardian's perceived poor track record in this area, I felt it was necessary to have at least one piece published under the Guardian banner that presented transphobia as illogical and irrational, which it definitely is.
It may not be a just world, but that doesn't mean we can't at least make an effort to change that.
As they say, read the whole thing. My comment on it:
And then there is the logic that goes this way. The left is always wrong. The left is championing these people because it sees them as victims of oppression. Therefore they must be deserving of no sympathy.
-- Lloyd Flack
… it's the Left "feminists" who loathe transsexualism with a fierce passion, Lloyd, IMO because it conflicts with the narratives of social constructionism. Men and women are somewhat different psychologically, and it always seemed kind of obvious to me that there were neurological differences underlying that from the first time I seriously considered the issue from that point of view. Men and women don't "think" differently… but they do tend to relate to others in different ways. The irony here is that in terms of my beliefs about "gendered consciousness", I used to be a social constructionist of the Shulamith Firestone variety, and I wish that she had been right.
-- Bonze Anne Rose Blayk From PinkNews:
DJ Sheepiesheep Every transphobic slur creates another transphobic bigot. The more transphobic bigots there are, the greater the chance of an act of violence against a trans person. So yes, I personally think that Moore and Burchill and their ilk are in part responsible for an increase in transphobic violence.
Solent And every misogynistic slur reinforces the bigotry of non bigots
Thia Jones Every transphobic slur IS a misogynistic slur
Tellitlikeitis Every trans abomination is a misogynistic slur. You lot rape women just by existing.
From "The Transsexual Empire: the making of the She-Male" 1979, reprinted 1980,1994,2007 by Professor Janice Raymond, a standard Radical Feminist text used in many universities.
All transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female form to an artefact, and appropriating this body for themselves.
I contend that the problem with transsexualism would best be served by morally mandating it out of existence.
You can't understand this irrational hatred without examining the philosophical basis for it.
OK, on to the linky goodness. First the Telegraph, reprinting Burchill's original and utterly unique piece. A paragraph thereform:
She, the other JB and I are part of the tiny minority of women of working-class origin to make it in what used to be called Fleet Street and I think this partly contributes to the stand-off with the trannies. (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.) We know that everything we have, we got for ourselves. We have no family money, no safety net. And we are damned if we are going to be accused of being privileged by a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs.
The Grauniad's Reader's editor, from back in 2004, the last time such foetid wording was used (though alas, not the last time overtly Transphobic articles appeared in that publication)
Dismay at the piece was registered not only by transsexual people but by doctors, therapists, academics and others involved in the field. One therapist wrote: "Transgendered people would like to go about their lives in peace and dignity." This column, which obscured any argument in discriminatory language, would not help them to do that. It abused an already abused minority that the Guardian might have been expected to protect.
Quite. And the language there was mild, in comparison with Burchill's piece.

Now for the non-apology apology that replaced the original.
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.
"Explore contentious issues" my Aunt Fanny. Just read it.

Onwards to the Interim Report from the Observer's Reader's Editor - the Observer is basically "the Guardian on Sunday", though there is independent editorial control.
It was "appalling", "vile", "hateful". It was "incredibly offensive". It was "rude, bigoted and downright insulting". In the 24 hours following the publication of Julie Burchill's Observer piece headlined "Transsexuals should cut it out", more than 1,000 emails arrived in my inbox and 2,952 comments were posted online, most of them highly critical of the decision to publish what one correspondent called "her bullying nonsense". The piece in question was a defence of her friend, the columnist Suzanne Moore, who claims she has been driven off Twitter by a vociferous campaign from transsexual people....
Sure it was.
The ensuing storm was notable both for its vociferous nature and for its individuality. A controversial issue will often bring a blizzard of identikit protest of apparently confected anger but while clearly this lobby was organised most of the emails and letters we received were personal and heartfelt. And they were not only from trans people. Concerned readers with no connection to the trans lobby felt hurt that a minority that could expect to be protected by a liberal publication was being attacked in an extremely insulting manner. "Would you have run the article if it had contained similar slurs regarding people of colour or people with disabilities?" was a typical question.
A collective failure of editing led to this piece appearing in the form that it did. "We will scrutinise further the manner in which this process needs improving," said the editor.
A Collective Failure of Editing. Just a bit, yes. The interior of the Sun is also moderately warm, and the sea not completely dry.
So how does the Observer move on from here? The editor says that discussions with representatives from the trans community will take place over the coming weeks. These discussions will be an opportunity to listen and also to debate the issues raised by this incident. A lesson has been learned.
My comment:
One thing that should be pointed out. The inaccuracy of referring to a "Trans Lobby" being involved here. The initial, very mild, critique on Twitter of Ms Moore came from... a fellow feminist. Not of the trans variety.
I loved your piece on anger - except for the shock transphobia ("a Brazilian transsexual") - why on earth did you include it?
That's it. You can see the record at
Moore replied with some increasingly nasty tweets.
Transphobia is your term. I have issues with trans anything actually... I dont prioritise this f***ing 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... People can just f*** off really. Cut their dicks off and be more feminist than me. Good for them.
That was the bit that was the insult direct. Transphobia, naked and unadorned. This caused a further Twitter-storm, 99+% of which did not involve Trans people.
The Trans contributions: Julia Serano tweeted on 8th January:
some cis feminists have a gambling problem Yet another cis feminist doubles down on trans misogyny
Suzannah (leftytgirl) tweeted on 11th January after the Burchill piece something more "robust and forthright", though moderate compared to Ms Moore's foul language
Suzanne Moore, trans-misogynist asshole extraordinaire ;)
The winking smiley emoticon rather diluting the effect. That's it. That's the sum and total involvement of this "Trans Lobby", this howling mob of Trans women.
Non-Trans feminists, vastly outnumbering the Trans contributions weighed in more forcefully. For example: F*ck you Suzanne Moore you c*nt as one cis Feminist wrote. Suzanne Moore is not a Feminist. Suzanne Moore is a piss stain on the pants of Fascism wrote another. Again, non-trans feminists here.
The really vile stuff, the threats and so on.... came from professional trolls, and a horde of 4chan anon accounts, "the usual suspects". None of them Trans. The infamous "lop off suzanne moore's spine imo" was by a well known social commentator, nominated for a "shorty" award. No connection to either trans or feminist groups at all.
However, the lede had to be different, so Burchill's unprintable (but alas, not unprinted) distilled hate wasn't self-contradictory.
Journalists - like yourself - are supposed to look behind the scenes, not take the words of anyone, politicians, businessmen, whoever at face value. You've screwed up here, even the editors trying to set things aright. Good luck in communicating with this "powerful trans lobby" Burchill blames. You'd be better off trying to find the Elders of Zion.
Or the International Communist Conspiracy to pollute our precious bodily fluids, for that matter.

A follow-up article will deal with second- and third- order effects. Links to articles in the Grauniad and Observer only though, rather than commentary by third parties. It's confusing enough as it is. The rest can wait. I have a life. I'd also like to blog about something else for a while, to cleanse my intellectual palate. Something humourous, but lingering. I'm not a bit angry at Ms Burchill.

Say... Gilbert and Sullivan's the Mikado.
MIK.: Ha! ha! ha! (To KATISHA) I forget the punishment for compassing the death of the Heir Apparent.
Ko, POOH, and PITTI: Punishment! (They drop down on their knees again.)
MIK.: Yes. Something lingering, with boiling oil in it, I fancy. Something of that sort. I think boiling oil occurs in it, but I'm not sure. I know it's something humorous, but lingering, with either boiling oil or melted lead. Come, come, don't fret, I'm not a bit angry.
Naughty Zoe! BAD Zoe!


Sophie said...

One context that it's important to have for anyone outside the UK is the general business strategy of the guardian/observer. Owned by a long term trust, they've spent the last few years attempting to become a significant digital force,far more so than other papers, losing considerable amounts of money in the process. As the only major left wing (UK terms) paper in the UK they've long had a number of women with second wave feminist leanings as columnists, many of whom, Greer and Bindel outstandingly , have solid anti-trans credentials.
Probably in the normal course of events these would have been gradually ushered out of publication. But they're kept on simply because they generate a lot of heat,and a lot of comments, which add to the guardian's internet footprint. Additionally the guardian has a large number of female readers with a somewhat sentimental attachment to greer et al. So whilst they are 'serious' papers, guardian and observer presently have some of the characteristics of a scandal sheet in terms of weight given to 'controversial topics'.
To be frank I'm not sure that trans responses to these affairs are necessarily the most helpful. Pieces by Roz, Paris, Jane etc have been articulate and well reasoned and not attracted that much comment simply because they made a great deal of good sense. But if trans women really want to take their place at the media/feminist table, then perhaps it's more desirable to try and offer the same sort of controversial stuff by rather more aggressively targeting arguments and spokeswomen for old style rad fem dogma.

Zoe Brain said...

Well, I did just compare Burchill's article to some of the pieces in Der Sturmer, magazine of the NSDAP.

You'll find it here.


Burchill's piece is another matter. Dennis Showalter in "Little Man, what Now? Der Sturmer in the Weimar Republic" wrote:

--- "a major challenge of political anti-Semitism involves overcoming the images of the 'Jew next door' — the living, breathing acquaintance or associate whose simple existence appears to deny the validity of that negative stereotype." ---

Articles like Juliet Jacques' very human and personal account reinforce the "Transwoman next door" image, leading people to see them as, well, human.

If any such group is to be "morally mandated out of existence" (in pure self-defence of course), it's vital that this idea be attacked, using the lowest, vilest caricatures, be it the "greasy hook-nosed Yid" or the "Dick in chick's clothing", the "decadent intellectual Kike" or the " Educated beyond all common sense and honesty Tranny".

See what I mean? Godwin's law isn't violated when the parallels are so exact.

I think that's both measured, and might just set the feline amongst the avians.

Anonymous said...

"See what I mean? Godwin's law isn't violated when the parallels are so exact."
"Girls are the largest marginalised group in the world," said Mr Chapman.
Zoe has no idea about fighting for rights. What we have is a bias veiw of propaganda. How about putting your time where the real problems are?


MgS said...


... and just where would you have Zoe put her efforts if not into the areas which affect her and others of similar background directly?

I hate to point this out, but the fight for rights as a trans person is more than just a fight for rights - it's a battle against erasure in the discourse of our civilizations. I cannot imagine a more legitimate fight if there ever was one.

Anonymous said...

“and just where would you have Zoe put her efforts”
I would spend my time dealing with human survival rather than sexual gender roles. If you believe in equality you start with the largest number of oppressed not the smallest fraction you happen to favor.

I am a trans person and do not want or need special rights or protection. I would like to see equality among the genders first before race or medical conditions are put on top.

The world is killing many more than the weak stand of trans people. Most trans people ask for trouble and refuse to give any to traditional cultures. I have never felt at a disadvantage even in a bigoted culture.


Zimbel said...


I don't see a conflict.

I'm a feminist.

I have done a small amount of work for Trans rights.

That said, if you want to concentrate on Women's rights more than Trans rights, please go ahead.

As a personal example, I have worked far more on Women's rights than Trans rights; I've been a Feminist for over two decades, but I have only been working on Trans issues for a few years.

However, I don't see a point in suggesting that someone who chooses the inverse should do something different; indeed, I tend to use such people for their developed ideas to increase the efficacy of my fairly small amount of time spent on activism.

Just as I, say, use Zoe Brain to maximize the efficacy of my fairly small amount of time spent on pro-Intrasexual (or, to a lesser degree pro-Trans) activism.

Zimbel said...

@Zoe Brain-

I'm afraid that I have to disagree with you. The simplest reason not to compare modern things to the Third Reich is that if something is really that bad, one should be able to articulate how bad it is without reference to the Third Reich.

When you refer to Der Stürmer's articles on Jews, I'm assuming that you're referring to some of the infamous articles in the early 1940s that encouraged the dehumanization and/or demanded the extermination of Jews.

Der Stürmer was an official organ of the governing party of Germany. It was a central piece of the Nazi propaganda machine. Those pieces were written in the mist of the Holocaust, in which millions of Jews were killed, in Germany by the Nazi party for the purpose of making it easier to kill those Jews.

If the Observer and/or The Guardian enjoys this sort of status (of a ruling party's official organ), I'm unaware of it. If there is an anti-Trans genocide going on in the U.K., I'd appreciate it if you let me know.

Is this a dehumanization article? Yes, it is. Is dehumanization a prelude to genocide in every case that I'm aware of? Yes, it is.

That said, the fact that The Guardian (online? I'm not certain of their corporate structure) felt compelled to retract it online in what appears to be less than 2 days is good. The fact that The Observer decided to state that they felt that publishing it was wrong in under a week is good. The fact that the Moore piece itself was attacked on Transphobic terms is very good.

All of these are symptoms that the attempted dehumanization failed. That said, The Guardian/The Observer should clean up their act; there is no excuse for them to have gotten this wrong in the first place. If there's any way in which I can assist in that, let me know.

Just don't ask me to compare them or this article to pieces in the organ of once of the worst crime against humanity in the past century. There are large differences in power, effect, and response, even if some of the terms used are similar.

Zoe Brain said...

Zimbel - I specifically made mention of Der Sturmer during the Weimar Republic. Before 1933.

A time when Germany was a Democracy.

Zoe Brain said...

Jody wrote:
Zoe has no idea about fighting for rights. What we have is a bias veiw of propaganda. How about putting your time where the real problems are?

If I were to do that, I'd have to publish articles like this, this, or this.

Anonymous said...

@Zoe Brain-
Ah - I missed that. That said, my only exposure to Der Stürmer was during an English class over two decades ago during a section about the Holocaust; I have no familiarity with Der Stürmer before the Holocaust, and very little within it. In other words, even if I had noted that you specifically mentioned the early 1930s or 1920s Der Stürmer, I would have made the association with the 1940s Der Stürmer, simply because that's all I'm familiar with.

That stated, I see something very positive here. Here's the events that I've observed:
1) Moore wrote a piece with a Trans-insensitive comment.
2) Moore got pushback on that Trans-insensitive comment for the Trans-insensitivity - from a community broader than the Trans community.
3) Moore wrote back that she didn't like Trans.
4) Moore got even more pushback.
5) Birchell tried to "defend" Moore (i.e. attack Trans) by writing a Trans dehumanization article.
6) The editors of The Observer, showed extreme Trans insensitivity (or possibly Trans hatred?) in publishing the Birchell article.
7) The Guardian online and The Observer get pushback, again not just from the Trans community.
8) The Guardian online withdraws the article, proclaiming that it was Trans-insensitive in less than 2 days.
9) The Observer makes a half-hearted apology for the publication within a week, and suggests that it will try to be less Trans-insensitive in the future.

What I see that's positive is the pushback from a wider community and the withdrawing and partial apologies. This is exactly analogous to what happens in the early stages of Black acceptance in the U.S.A. as documented by, for example, Lowen's Sundown Towns.

The important thing is to keep it up; partial acceptance can backslide.

The Observer should be able to automatically search any submissions for likely insensitive terms. I think it would be very easy to add the most common Trans-insensitive terms for further review.

Perhaps I will suggest that to them.

Anonymous said...

Wait a second - The Telegraph reprinted the Birchell piece and still has it up?

I guess due to my unfamiliarity with the publications, I'd conflated that with The Observer. I'll contact them to ask them to take it down; if you have an alternate suggestion, I'm all ears.

Sophie said...

@ Zimbel.I live in Berlin. Every time I walk out the door I pass by the reminders,the small brass cobblestone caps with the names of those dragged away, the small hardly noticable plaque in the graveyard up the road to the hundreds of local teenagers taken away by the russian,the marks of rifle bullets still on the sides of the canal. And like everyone who comes here, I wonder how all that came about.
If the dehumanisation that the nazis propagated hadn't happened, if old herr Goldstein hadn't become simply the jew goldstein, then maybe things might have been different. Holding that up to the dehumanisation as practiced by terfs doesn't seem so extreme to me, especially when it crosses my mind to wonder how long I, as a lesbian jewish trans woman, might have survived.