The Observer publishes transphobic hate speech by Julie Burchill

by Laura // 13 January 2013, 21:30

Tags: hate speech, Julie Burchill, media, Suzanne Moore, transphobia

UPDATE 14/01/13: This statement from John Mulholland, editor of The Observer, has just been published:

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.

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 I write on behalf of the F-Word blogging collective to express our disgust and dismay at both the publication and the content of an article by Julie Burchill headlined "Transsexuals should cut it out", which appeared today in the Comment is Free section of the Guardian website and in The Observer newspaper. In it, Burchill attempts to defend her friend Suzanne Moore following this week's criticism, using shockingly vile transphobic language throughout. We do not wish to repeat this language, but you can read the article for yourself here, without increasing page views for the original article.

This language is nothing short of hate speech: it fuels the discrimination and violence suffered by trans people the world over. Burchill's apparent threat to trans women at the end of the article only compounds this.

We are angry that the Observer and - presumably - Comment is Free editors felt it was acceptable to publish this hate speech. Their decision shows complete disdain for trans people and a total lack of concern for their rights and safety.

We call upon both The Observer and the Guardian to apologise and to take action to ensure no further pieces of this nature are published.

Please send letters/emails of complaint to the Observer readers' editor, who has already stated that he is looking into the issue following the many complaints received today.

You can also complain to the Press Complaints Commission.

A petition demanding an apology can be found here.

As for Burchill herself, we want to make it very clear that she does not represent any kind of feminism that we wish to be associated with. Transphobia has no place in feminism, and fighting it is essential to women's liberation.

Further reading

Unguarded and Poorly Observed: A Response to Julie Burchill (Quinnae Moongazer)

An open letter to The Observer from Juliet Jacques (who wrote the "A Transgender Journey" blog for The Guardian)

Julie Burchill has ended up bullying the trans community (Roz Kaveney's response for Comment is Free)

Comments From You

Gaptooth // Posted 13 January 2013 at 21:50

With all of the fighting that has gone on recently between some feminists and trans activists (okay it's been going on for a long time, but seems to have become more public and perhaps more vitriolic over the past year or so) it has been good to see that The F Word has maintained a strong stance against transphobia and the exclusion of trans women from feminist spaces. I would like to think that this reflects the feelings of a majority of UK feminists.

I wonder, though, how we can move past this ongoing stand off. The debate rarely seems to go anywhere as it seems as though we are talking past each other most of the time. As a number of feminist groups still seem to be dominated by a few very vocal TERFs who seem to hold a lot of sway, what is the best strategy for ensuring that the feminist movement in the UK and elsewhere is inclusive and welcoming to trans women?

Fairy // Posted 13 January 2013 at 22:44

I agree whole heartedly with your statement. I would describe myself as egalitarian. I believe all people are equal regardless of gender, be that the gender you were assigned at birth, the gender you live as of whether you feel you belong to a defined gender at all. To argue about whether you are a "better" feminist than another because of the genitals you happen to be born with seems completely beside the point to me. Can this anger not be focused on far more important things, such as recent caps on benefits, and other devastating policies from our government and the way women are treated internationally with particular reference to recent events in India.

sianmarie // Posted 14 January 2013 at 09:28

well said laura!

like gaptooth i am so pleased we have the f word continually challenging the transphobia we all too often see in the mainstream media. Through the F Word i have learnt so much about the issues faced by trans women, i've learnt about what cis means and i've learnt about intersectionality. it's one of the reasons i love the f word so much *gush*

And like Gaptooth i wonder what we do now. I saw a tweet from Peter Tatchell basically accusing feminism of being transphobic - totally silencing spaces like the f word and the many trans women who ID as feminist and the many cis women who don't hold transphobic views who ID as feminist. How do we get these inclusive and positive voices out there? I feel a little bit how we did back when feminism was still being proclaimed as dead by the media - when mainstream media feminist voices kept talking about how the feminist movement had ground to a halt and we were all shouting 'we're over here!' (obviously this isn't over it was just very very common a few years ago!). Now we see too many MSM feminists talking in transphobic ways and their proclamations being taken as representative of the feminist movement.

Lynne Miles // Posted 14 January 2013 at 10:35

Thanks for writing this, Laura. As one of TFW blogging collective I just wanted to say I support everything you've said above.

Jane Fae // Posted 15 January 2013 at 10:56

Thought i'd add a couple more links as this has taken off over the last few days as you are most certainly aware. First up from CN Lester: http://sosogay.co.uk/columns/the-julie-burchill-transphobia-scandal-cn-lester-writes-for-so-so-gay/

The second from (sorry!) myself, in the Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/burchills-attack-follows-the-same-pattern--trans-stories-are-only-of-interest-if-we-star-as-villains-8449812.html

That said, my two favourite pieces on this issue so far are the one by Quinnae Moongazer for the simple honest personal perspective it conveys - and that by CN, for the clarity of writing (wish mine was as clear).

Beyond that, i think it worth adding that we should not be too quick to condemn the entirety of the Guardian enterprise out of hand. The decision to publish was taken by staff on the Observer who - people who don't work in the media may be surprised to learn - are working to a different agenda and in many ways in competition with the peeps on the Guardian newsdesks.

When i spoke to my regular contacts at the Guardian, they expressed ...well...they expressed a lot of things off the record, but i think it fair to say they were not supportive of the decision to publish.

That said (and i certainly don't think this piece should have been published), once up i think the decision to take it down was equally disastrous. There are wheels within wheels here, but the only principled decision would have been to take it down on Sunday morning, before it had had the exposure it has since had.

To hang on til Monday tea time, when it had gained the Observer mega exposure, feels too calculated to me.

Also, i remain highly confused as to what the current position is. The piece has been taken down but the statement explaining the take down is itself but a holding statement. Sort of: we're taking it down now because it might have been an error to put it up, but we're still waiting to see if the lawyers think it shouldn't have gone up in the first place (trust me: the ructions are still going on internally!).

So-o...don't blame the Guardian: it wasn't them that done it. But do be very suspicious indeed of the Observer, both the initial decision and the take-down, which probably is not for the reasons stated publically.

jane

Quinnae Moongazer // Posted 15 January 2013 at 18:05

First of all I wanted to thank The F-Word for speaking out about this and, in no uncertain terms, speaking out in defence of your trans sisters. I've long loved this site, though I've never commented until today.

I also wanted to thank you for the humbling inclusion of my blog post in your "Further Reading" section here, I was profoundly grateful for that and for the ability to contribute meaningfully to this discussion on behalf of my UK feminist family. I don't live in Britain, but it's both a country I've had a vexed love/hate relationship with, and where I have many close friends, colleagues, and admired community members who I worry about every day because of Fleet Street paroxysms like this one.

Jane Fae: I read your piece in the Independent. It was very well observed and keenly written, and I'm humbled by your compliments, thanks. :) I also appreciate your insight into what's going on behind the curtain at the newspapers currently. It will be quite interesting to see where the Observer goes from here.

The main reason I wanted to leave a comment here has to do with Sianmarie's insightful questions, above. They point out quite correctly that some people (well-meaning and otherwise) have taken this as an opportunity to attack feminism as a whole, as intrinsically prejudicial which is-- to say the very least-- deeply upsetting for a number of reasons. One, as Sianmarie observed, it silences the many feminist voices (I'd even say a majority) who've risen up against the kind of transmisogyny evinced by Burchill's editorial and spaces like The F-Word which have made serious and sincere efforts to help pioneer an empathetic, diverse feminism. Two, and just as damaging in my view, it has the effect of appropriating trans women's political concerns and deploying them in scatter-shot against feminism, largely without our consent.

There are a lot of folks out there, mainly men, who only seem to care about trans women when they can use us at times like this to take a pop at feminism, sneer, and move on. This particularly divisive move needs to be understood for what it is, and should not be seen as representative of trans women (though a few here and there may agree with the sentiment, a trans woman's reasons for staying outside feminism are invariably different from the passive anti-feminist prejudice of the cis folks I'm describing here). I enjoin cis feminists to resist the temptation to generalise that behaviour onto trans women. It's vital to remember that I and many others who've spoken out have sought refuge within feminism, and even drawn comfort from it at the height of the Burchill mess; we use it to defend ourselves daily, and a lot of us-- in ways great and small, passive and active-- support feminist goals. We are not the problem. The claque of cis anti-feminists deliberately and disingenuously appropriating our complaints *are*.

If we are to "move forward" as one, it requires recognising insidious traps like this and resisting the urge to blame trans women for the anti feminism of others. My critiques of feminism are in the hope of helping it live up to the sisterhood and revolution it promises, not to destroy or marginalise it.

Perhaps, to summarise very briefly, the way to "move past" this knotty impasse is to recognise that trans women are women and contain all the diversity of womankind-- to recognise our activism within feminism, and to recognise that we have a lot to say about the world and not only about our trans experience therein.

Thanks so much again, F-Word. Lots of love to you all!

sianmarie // Posted 16 January 2013 at 09:51

Hi Quinnae Moongazer

thank you for your very true and insightful comment. I completely agree.

I hope my comment didn't give the impression that I was in any way blaming trans women for the anti-feminism of others? As that absolutely was not my intention and if I gave that idea then please accept my apologies. Sometimes I write quick comments and muddle my phrasing and don't say clearly enough what I mean. So as I say, I am sorry if that is the impression I gave.

I completely and utterly believe and agree with you that we must all resist any temptation to generalise and instead we must stand in solidarity.

And hear hear to this:

"Perhaps, to summarise very briefly, the way to "move past" this knotty impasse is to recognise that trans women are women and contain all the diversity of womankind-- to recognise our activism within feminism, and to recognise that we have a lot to say about the world and not only about our trans experience therein."

Thanks and apologies again!

In solidarity,

Sianushka

Quinnae Moongazer // Posted 17 January 2013 at 22:37

Hi there, Sianmarie! Thanks a lot for your response, I just wanted to be clear that I was in no way accusing you of any of that or suggesting you'd stumbled into it. It was more "I agree with Sianmarie, and here's the flip side of what they said," sort of expanding on your point and giving it from the perspective of trans women feminists. :) Take care!

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