Sunday, 13 January 2013

A letter to the Observer on transphobia

Like many people, I was really angry and upset by Julia Burchill's article in the Observer today. I am sending the below letter to the editor to complain about their use of transphobic language - a use that is simply not acceptable. Please feel free to copy and paste this letter and amend as you wish. I have put in a note at the end about language and intersectionality.

Because this is a letter about the article I am repeating some of the words Burchill mentioned so comes with a warning about that.
Dear Editor of the Observer,

When the Sun newspaper published an article using the offensive and transphobic term ‘tranny’, the PCC ruled that it was not acceptable for a national newspaper to use words that are prejudicial and perjorative.   A few years later, Leveson  heard evidence about how the use of transphobic language is not compatible with a press that respects the rights of everyone to live free from discrimination.

Therefore I was astounded to read Julie Burchill’s article on Sunday 13th January 2013. The article purports to defend her friend and colleague Suzanne Moore. Earlier that week Suzanne left Twitter after a row over her use of transphobic terms and subsequent comments. However, Burchill’s article quickly became deeply unpleasant, using incredibly offensive terms including ‘tranny’, ‘shemale’ and ‘shim’.

These perjorative and hateful terms are used on a regular basis to insult and dehumanise trans men and women. They are used to justify the frankly terrifying levels of transphobic violence that happens in the UK and across the world every day. Every 36 hours, somewhere in the world a trans person is murdered. This terrible violence continues to happen because all too often transphobic attitudes remain unchallenged. These attitudes which Julie Burchill so carelessly and proudly displayed today simply do not have a place in a national newspaper. In fact, this kind of hate language does not and should not have a place anywhere. 

We would not put up with this abusive language being shouted out to people on the street. I find it difficult to believe that the Observer would condone this language if it came from the mouth of a traditionally ‘right wing’ commentator such as Clarkson or Littlejohn. I would also challenge the idea that the Observer would publish such flagrant hate language focused towards any other group of people.

We all have a responsibility to work together for a society that does not encourage discrimination and hate. We all have a responsibility to challenge, question and call out transphobia. As a newspaper, I believe you share that responsibility. You know as well as anyone that language matters. Giving a national platform to transphobic language helps to normalise dangerous and violent attitudes that cause so much real and devastating harm. It sends a message that transphobia is somehow acceptable, that it is ok to speak hatefully. It isn’t. Hate speech is never acceptable, whoever it is directed at and whoever is saying it.

I hope that the Observer will take this complaint and other complaints seriously and publish an apology for using language that the Press Complaints Commission deems prejudicial and perjorative. I hope that this unfortunate incident also encourages the Observer to look closely at how it represents trans women and men and leads to your paper giving more of a voice to the trans community.

Yours sincerely

I hope that my letter is clear and angry. If I have inadvertently used any terms or phrasings that are perhaps unhelpful or unwittingly discriminatory against trans women and men then please let me know. I think what the rows over the last few days have emphasised more than ever is that we are all continually learning about intersectionality and the overlapping nature of oppressions and privilege. It is a process I have been learning about for a long time and I still make mistakes. But I am willing to learn from those mistakes because that willingness to listen to one another and learn from one another is the only way I can see where we can truly be intersectional.

I feel very concerned how intersectionality is becoming something to almost jeer at, when the reality is intersectionality is about how we all experience different oppressions and privileges and how we must not use that privilege to silence one another. To me, intersectionality is not about academic vs non-academic, working class vs middle class or even second wave vs whatever wave this is. It's about listening and learning and understanding one another so that both blatant and inadvertant discrimination and oppression can end. It isn't a question of choosing between being intersectional and being angry at patriarchy/David Cameron/rape culture. It's all part of the same thing. If we're angry with David Cameron whilst not looking at how government policies impact different women in different ways because of multiple oppressions and privileges then how can we truly, really fight for social justice? For an end to patriarchy and a better world for everyone? Without intersectionality to me feminism becomes about shuffling the same power structures around. When what I want is liberation from the patriarchal power structures that oppress everyone but the most privileged.

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