Hate seems surely to be the only word for it? Julie Burchill appears to have set alight Twitter today with a misjudged piece on The Guardian’s Comment is Free website. I woke at 6am and spotted a single tweet to the story. I wasn’t sure I was fully awake and feared I may be hallucinating. A quick search revealed many others waking up with a similar reaction. I Tweeted that there would be a storm about this later today and promptly went back to sleep for a couple of hours.
If anything, I may have underestimated the reaction. Twitter is (rightly) ablaze. Burchill begins her piece with setting the scene of how she comes to know fellow Rad Fem writer, Suzanne Moore:
‘The brilliant writer Suzanne Moore and I go back a long way. I first met her when she was a young single mother living in a council flat; she took me out to interview me about my novel Ambition (republished by Corvus Books this spring, since you ask) for dear dead City Limits magazine. “I’ve got an entertaining budget of £12.50!” she said proudly. “Sod that, we’re having lobster and champagne at Frederick’s and I’m paying,” I told her. Half a bottle of Bolly later, she looked at me with faraway eyes: “Ooo, I could get to like this…” And so she did.’
It’s into this context that Burchill recounts a recent Twitter controversy over Moore’s comments on transsexuals. She describes it as being ‘monstered’, but goes on to further comment it in these terms: ‘Though I imagine it to be something akin to being savaged by a dead sheep, as Denis Healey had it of Geoffrey Howe, I nevertheless felt indignant that a woman of such style and substance should be driven from her chosen mode of time-wasting by a bunch of dicks in chicks’ clothing.’
Her use of the phrase ‘a bunch of dicks in chicks’ clothing’ manages to move the story on from Moore appearing transphobic to Burchill appearing to be a transphobic writer defending other transphobic writers.
Let’s be clear, context is important and it is conceivable that some people, in some contexts could utter the same few words and they be meant in a less than offensive way, but here – int he context of talking about transsexuals – it can be little else than offensive.
It is hateful transphobic language, deployed to injure and offend, to lash out in place of apology or sympathy.
Burchill then goes on to defend another Rad Fem, and someone else who has got into bother over the issue of trans identities, Julie Bindel. Then Burchill really hits her stride, writing:
‘She, the other JB and I are part of the 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 trans lobby is now saying that it wasn’t so much the initial piece as Suzanne’s refusal to apologise when told to that “made” them drive her from Twitter. Presumably she is meant to do this in the name of solidarity and the “struggle”, though I find it very hard to imagine this mob struggling with anything apart from the English language and the concept of free speech. To have your cock cut off and then plead special privileges as women – above natural-born women, who don’t know the meaning of suffering, apparently – is a bit like the old definition of chutzpah: the boy who killed his parents and then asked the jury for clemency on the grounds he was an orphan.’
Extraordinary stuff indeed. The champagne and lobster guzzling vision of the working class is I confess a little different from my own Lancashire working class roots, but maybe Southerners do things differently (it was only Bolly). I know I’m being unfair but it was a rather silly thing to write in a piece extolling your working class identity and reflects the broader complete lack of self-awareness that Burchill sadly seems to be exhibiting.
She then goes on to mock the label ‘shemales’, which also highlights that this isn’t absolute transphobia – just those that she sees as MTF. FTM (to restrict myself to the binary for now), go by without comment.
All is explained with her final paragraph: ‘Shims, shemales, whatever you’re calling yourselves these days – don’t threaten or bully us lowly natural-born women, I warn you. We may not have as many lovely big swinging Phds as you, but we’ve experienced a lifetime of PMT and sexual harassment and many of us are now staring HRT and the menopause straight in the face – and still not flinching.’
For these Rad Fems, MTF individuals are offensive to their idea of womanhood – they can’t understand and can never ‘really’ be ‘women’. Thus, they ought to be excluded from feminist marches, and it seems spat at with journalistic bile on high-profile international news sites. Study, and detailed calm exploration of issues is no place for the emotional and physical experience.
She concludes with: ‘Trust me, you ain’t seen nothing yet. You really won’t like us when we’re angry.’
You’re right, we don’t Julie. We really don’t. If the Guardian has any sense, an apology must follow, and no further articles should be published by Burchill until such an apology is published. Burchill is entitled to the views she holds, and could make a thoughtful argument for her position (which I disagree with), but for an apparently professional writer to resort to spiting hate in a national newspaper is beyond the pale.