[Content warning: transphobia, silencing, white cis women's tears]
Note: since drafting this piece, the Observer and thus the Guardian have taken down Burchill’s piece with this editor’s note attached:
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.
Which is so many levels of bullshit it’s not even funny, but also straight from the “I wanted to bump pageviews by offending people, just not this much” mainstream media apology handbook.
Or as @cnlester put it,
Observer’s statement totally meaningless – Burchill’s hate-fest can’t possibly be described as “an attempt to explore contentious issues”.
At least, that’s the spin Julie Burchill is putting on the backlash against Suzanne Moore’s decision to associate the “perfect body” which women are supposed to aspire to with that of “a Brazilian transsexual”.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learnt as a relatively-privileged feminist blogger? Just stay the fuck away from analogies. Just don’t go there. If it’s not a system of oppression you yourself experience, don’t appropriate it to discuss your own issues.
This is why you’ll frequently see me use square brackets and “insert racial group here!” phrasing when I’m trying to explain why something is fucked up. Because to say “this is just like what happened to Maaori” or “this is just like when people attack Muslims” or “I feel the same way lesbians feel” isn’t just a giant can of actually-I-don’t-know-what-I’m-talking-about worms, it’s also just fucking pathetic.
I’m quite capable of explaining bullshit like the pay gap and workplace sexual harassment and the lack of availability of abortion in New Zealand without co-opting the struggles of other groups and pretending our issues are totally the same.
Then I stop and remind myself that the issue with Suzanne Moore’s piece is that she isn’t co-opting the struggle of trans people in Brazil. She’s erasing their struggle by using a stereotype. Hey, you may be denied basic human rights and run a massively higher risk of getting murdered than cis people, but at least you look hot, right?
Suzanne Moore treated trans women like they were cookie-cutter male fantasies in order to inspire solidarity among cis women, and she and her good pal Julie Burchill are going to talk about being bullied?
Julie Burchill is literally going to type the words “vociferous transsexual lobby”? Yeah, there’s a powerful group whose influence on global politics needs to be critically examined.
What’s especially bitterly hilarious is how Burchill’s whole argument in defence of Moore is exactly the same silencing, bullying shit which spawned second-wave western feminism out of leftwing activism – “stop talking about your silly little issues, focus on the big picture, we need to fight the real enemy together.”
I’m pretty sure that for a lot of trans people, the “real enemy” definitely includes being used as stereotyped punchlines by mainstream feminists while the actual risks of oppression and violence they face get swept under the carpet.
Oh, and making hilarious comments about “having your cock cut off” in an article headlined “Transexuals should cut it out”? Pretending that you don’t understand the issues around the word “sh*m***”? Yeah, that’s fucking classy, Julie Burchill. And not at all belittling, bullying, or silencing.
But that’s okay. I understand the deep bonds that exist between white cis women who have Bolly for lunch together. You had a moral duty to put those trans people in their place. I guess the real tragedy is they won’t even realise you’ve told them to shut up for their own good, right?
Related reading: @auntysarah on Twitter has created a version of Burchill’s column with the transphobic bits taken out; Paris Lees has written an open letter to Suzanne Moore in response to both her and Burchill’s comments; Sianushka has sent a letter to the Observer about their printing of transphobic language