It's not what you do, it's the way you do it
Suzanne Moore was recently forced to abandon her Twitter account, having received an avalanche of abusive messages from irate transsexual and non-transsexual men and women who use the site.
The abusive messages were sent in response to one particular sentence, which was the impetus for the recent scandal that also involved her friend and fellow feminist Julie Burchill, from an article she had written, published in the New Statesman on the 8th of January, titled Seeing Red: The Power of Female Anger.
“we [women] are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.”
Moore's clumsy use of “Brazilian transsexual” to colourfully illustrate her point about the ideal female physique, is a provocative choice of words, which does reinforce the point she seems to be making – that there are stereotypes defined for women regarding their physique and many Brazilian trans women embrace these, reflecting the pressure on all women to conform. (This seems to me to be her most likely intention and is thoughtless rather than malicious).
However, the trouble is found in its potential to imply that transgender women are not 'real' women because they are positioned in contrast to non-transsexual women who in Moore's article fall short of this ideal. This is compounded when considered alongside the fact that, as the Latin America Centre on Human Rights states, “Brazil has the world's highest recorded murder rate for trans people”.
Moore's defiance of demands for an apology and attempts to defend her position, resorting to tweets like the one below, have only stirred up more trouble and cast doubt upon her integrity:
“People can just fuck off really. Cut their dicks off and be more feminist than me. Good for them.”
Though presumably an off-the-cuff emotional response, as well as neglecting entire sections of the transsexual population, this statement inspires division rather than her hoped for female solidarity.
In one of her tweets she associates the term transphobia with Islamophobia, which, if nothing else, seems to show a clear misunderstanding of the nature of transsexuality. Religious affiliation is based upon a choice whereas being born in a body with which one cannot identify is an imposition and has nothing whatsoever to do with choice.
Getting to the guts of this ignominious affair, Julie Burchill published an article with the Observer in which she defended Moore, (an admirable act in most circumstances) but in doing so branded the entire transsexual community as bullying middle-class intellectuals who should keep quiet about the problems they face until the more general issues concerning all women are resolved. In between her very vulgar insults she begins a battle for who has it worse – the female working class heroes (like herself) or those who do not identify with the body they are born with – understandably provoking a great deal more outrage.
Surely all kinds of discrimination and inequality practised upon any group of people or individual deserve to be given a fair share of attention?
Burchill's hate-filled rant (it deserves to be called nothing less) is a sad reminder of the pathetic tirades that one reads all too frequently in the comments section of Youtube videos where uptight egos battle it out to see who can make the most obnoxious and demeaning remarks, while at the same time claiming the moral high ground. However, we may thank her for bringing into the present public consciousness the important issues of freedom of expression, hate speech, hate crimes committed against transsexual men and women and the plight of women in general.
A particularly petty remark by Burchill displays her willingness to make ill-informed visceral responses:
“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.”
'Cis' is a Latin derived prefix meaning “on the same side” and Cisgender (according to a variety of posters on Susan's Place Transgender Resources webpage) may be understood as someone identifying with their biological female or male sex, as opposed to a transgender individual who feels that their identity and biological sex are in conflict with one another. The usefulness of this term however is held in contention.
Perhaps what can be rescued from the rubble of this fiasco of communication is a raised public awareness of the plight of transsexual people and a renewed public dialogue concerning the reality of oppression and discrimination which many people continue to face in their daily lives. Moore and Burchill need to realise that if they expect others to consider their plight with respect then they must do the same.