Why the #Genderquake Debate Must Never Happen Again (cn)

I wonder if – at the meeting where the #Genderquake debate was first pitched – anyone took a moment to ask “will this meet the remit of the agreement we made to responsibly eradicate transphobia and represent trans people respectfully?” As far as quite a lot of the trans community are concerned today – and has already been noted by Trans Advocate – the answer to that question is no. Indeed it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that Channel 4 have harmed, perhaps beyond repair, the trust of one of our most marginalised communities.  What happens next will define if Tuesday night’s debacle was a turning point toward the end of unchecked transphobia in our media, or the start of an even greater saturation of it.

Everything that was wrong with the premise of the format was put on blast when – on national television – a small clique of white women hurled verbal transphobic abuse at a black trans woman. Producers then failed to remove those responsible for the verbal abuse, despite Munroe Bergdorf requesting that those who were abusing her be removed. Grown women were allowed to shout ‘you have a penis’ and ‘you’re a man’ at a trans woman. A last minute chastisement came from the host and chair of the programme, Cathy Newman, as the credits were about to roll – but by then it looked like the lip service it was to Channel 4’s commitment to “..ensuring that transgender people … are treated with the same respect as non-transgender people.”

It was probably the worst of it, but there were several points where the lazy journalism that propped up the ‘debate’ made it difficult for Munroe, Caitlyn Jenner, Jen Powell,  Kenny Jones and Ash Sarkar to address the tropes, myths and flat out lies that Germaine Greer and Sarah Ditum were able to drop-and-run into the ‘conversation’. The myth of the desistance rate of trans children wasn’t picked up on for example; Greer was allowed to get away with the anti-Semitic dog whistle claim that there’s a shadowy group of people making lots of money out of ‘transing’ people; and trans men were described as frustrated girls trying to become men as a ‘way out of their oppression’ – in front of a trans man. To put it bluntly, Cathy Newman had no authority in the room, and it showed.

This was particularly obvious almost mid way through the programme – Cathy Newman asked Germaine Greer about one of the many transphobic statements she has made. I’ll be honest: it came across as if the first part of the debate was set up to lead to that moment – Greer’s rampant transphobia exposed on live television, and a defence demanded.

First, and despite her (frankly half-arsed) denial, yes: Greer really did say ‘lopping your dick off and wearing a dress doesn’t make you a woman’.  I for one, certainly think we can respect an 80 year old woman enough to hold her responsible for what she said when she was 76. Greer has a long history of vocally demonising trans people, and most often trans women:

“On the day that The Female Eunuch was issued in America, a person in flapping draperies rushed up to me and grabbed my hand. ‘Thank you so much for all you’ve done for us girls!’ I smirked and nodded and stepped backwards, trying to extricate my hand from the enormous, knuckly, hairy, be-ringed paw that clutched it… Against the bony ribs that could be counted through its flimsy scarf dress swung a polished steel women’s liberation emblem. I should have said, ‘You’re a man. The Female Eunuch has done less than nothing for you. Piss off.’ The transvestite [sic] held me in a rapist’s grip.” – Germaine Greer in The Independent: ‘On why sex change is a lie’, 22nd July 1989

But I digress.

I would imagine – given Greer’s track record – that the production team hadn’t factored in Greer attempting to deny that she had said what she had, in fact, said. It would have been helpful if Cathy Newman included the fact of when Greer had said it, but that’s perhaps the wisdom of hindsight: it gave Greer the opportunity of a poor denial, and the ‘gotcha’ moment that Newman and Channel 4 were clearly expecting slipped out of their grasp, along with any vestige of authority Newman might have had – the heckling of Munroe Bergdorf came in the wake of that.

Were the audience encouraged to heckle (or ‘interact’)? I would imagine – it was a live television event, and audiences listening to the panel respectfully wasn’t going to make for dramatic tension. Or viewing figures.

But the failure to own the goal that the C4 team were likely expecting to score exacerbated a situation which led to a black trans woman being verbally abused by a white woman, on live television – a situation which had been made likely enough already, due to the format of the show, and it was obvious how difficult, uncomfortable and frightening it must have become for the trans and non-binary panellists’.

Were women silenced on Tuesday night? You betcha. But it wasn’t the women who were shouting about penis’ who were silenced. It’s the trans girls, (and trans boys, and non binary children), and trans women (and trans men and non binary people) who were too frightened to come out before that programme aired, and for whom there will be precious little evidence that its safe to come out now: who heard Sarah Ditum make false claims of high desistance rates among trans children (again), and heard her (again) compare trans women and girls to violent predatory males, something which she does any time she’s given a platform to do so.

Channel 4 owe the trans community an apology, because it allowed trans people to be verbally abused and did nothing to stop it; and it owes them more than that – it owes them a renewed, and thorough, re-commitment to the promises that they so spectacularly failed to keep to on Tuesday night.


  • Eliminating transphobia in the media
  • Ending the provision of misinformation about transgender people in the media
  • Increasing positive, well informed representations of transgender people in the media
  • Ensuring that transgender people working in or with the media are treated with the same respect as non-transgender people in equivalent positions








Dear Jerry Hayes, The REAL Uncomfortable Truth About Rape and Why you should apologise…

Dear Jerry Hayes

My twitter time line exploded on Thursday night. As did I, in an almost-literal re-creation of Mr Creosote from Monty Python’s ‘The Meaning of Life’: not from eating too much food though – but from hearing too much un-varnished rape apologism. The reason for the twitter storm is because you said something really awful, denied that you said it, ignored some very public facts and have now gone on to blog about rape, claiming that your view is an ‘uncomfortable truth.

So I am going to deal with what was said, why it has upset lots of people, and why you really do need to apologize for it.

First your opening remarks, in response to the question about whether accused people should be anonymous:

I’ve been prosecuting and defending rape’s and serious sexual offenses for over thirty years. The fact is I am firmly of the view that if you are accused of a sexual offense, particularly with rape, particularly with children, you should be anonymous until after that trial. Because the stigma is just, well, it’s worse than murder. I have seen people who have been acquitted – perhaps when I’ve defended them – erm, hah-hah little plug…

(Yes. That’s right. In the middle of a discussion on the subject of rape and child abuse, you plugged your services and made a joke about it. Sensitive, much?) But moving on…

…the stigma sticks with them for life, everyone says ‘Oh, there’s no smoke without fire’.. and there’s, I know, a movement a people who say ‘Well it stop’s women from coming forward’ – it doesn’t stop women from coming forward, we’ve gone a long long long way from all the old idea’s about rape and they are treated very very well…

And at this point I have to stop for a moment. Partly because if I try to explain to you about the stigma of being abused and raped I will end up getting a bit emotional and I want to deal with facts as much as possible.

So here’s what what happened, and what was actually said, (and if you want to check me, be my guest: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01sffvs/Question_Time_09_05_2013/   and it starts at around the 42 minute mark) –

A member of the audience decided to take to task the notion that it is ‘easier’ for a woman to come forward to speak about rape, and that it is really hard to prosecute someone for rape. You cut her off mid-sentence to say that ‘it is honestly not the case’, but the audience member pressed her point by quoting the statistic that there were 95,000 reported  (important to emphasise that word) rapes which were prosecuted last year – and barely 900 convictions, and how does that show that it’s easier for women to come forward. That’s right Jerry: that figure she quoted you was based on those rape allegations which were brought to trial.

Those figures don’t just come from Rape Crisis, but are backed up by the CPS’s own figures. The 2011 CPS report on VAWG (Violence Against Women and Girls) showed a 38% rise from 2006/7 to 2010-11 in prosecutions of rape and domestic violence cases: up from 68,930 (of reported incidents) to 95, 257 (of reported incidents). If you don’t believe either the audience member, or me, or Rape Crisis then at least believe the CPS.

In your blog post you say:

I have been accused of saying that rape victims are liars. Not only did I not say or suggest this, I certainly don’t think it.

What you said (and again, pop along to BBC iPlayer and watch it again if you must) was this:

You can’t say there were 95,000 rapes because clearly they weren’t raped because the person wasn’t prosecuted.

Yes Jerry, that is exactly the same thing as calling rape victims liars.

To say such a stupid, crass, pig ignorant thing like ‘clearly they weren’t raped because the person wasn’t prosecuted’ is to demonstrate quite spectacularly not only an appalling ignorance of the facts, but is a quite spectacular example of the old idea’s about rape which you claimed just a few minutes before we come such ‘a long long way’ from.

Further, it is perpetuating the very same myths about false rape,  that the report issued by Keir Starmer and the CPS in March, are trying to dismantle. That report (which Stella Creasy tweeted out to you and you so casually dismissed) makes the very necessary point that not getting a conviction for rape is absolutely not because the victim was not raped. That report makes it clear that false rape allegations make up just 0.02% of all reported rapes.

Your blog post (which requires a trigger warning for rape victims so loud it would be heard from Mars) only makes what you said worse. Victims characters cannot be trashed?? Try telling that to Ched Evan’s victim (as just one random example).

So yes, of course you should apologize.

If you want to blog about the ‘uncomfortable truth’ about rape, I suggest you find out what the uncomfortable truth is first.

But if you want to insist you have nothing to apologize for, in the face of your own words and the overwhelming evidence, at least refrain from throwing words like ‘defamatory’ around on twitter to those who sought to call you out for the wrong you did.

Yours (most) sincerely