Let me start by saying that I have very little experience of trans-gender issues. I do know women for whom this is a direct and daily issue, but this gives me no special knowledge or insight on what it is to be a woman who was born or identified at birth as male. So the only perspective I can write from is my own, but there are excellent blogs and articles out there which will help you understand this issue from a trans-gender perspective. (See http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/13/julie-birchill-bullying-trans-community or http://www.thefword.org.uk/features/2009/12/cis_feminists_s for example).
So if in writing this I say something which offends, then please point this out to me.
On my twitter timeline this morning were many people who rightly (and for various reasons) found Julie Burchill’s(1) article today to be offensive, upsetting and the kind of bigotry which both the Observer and Guardian should know better than to allow. I like the people I follow on twitter – they care about justice and equality, and treating people with respect. It is why I follow them. So in part, my post today is to say to them – you are not wrong in how this made you feel. It upset you because it was upsetting, they were horrible words, the tone was vile and I know that you all care about getting how we treat each other, right.
There has been plenty written about the Suzanne Moore article (and departure from twitter (2) ) which kick started this. So what I also want to speak to is the central issue of equality and respect – because I want to know why, and when, either one of those things became so bound up in biology that the giving of it became conditional on whether or not your genitals passed some sort of acceptability test. Honestly, when other women do it too, I want to pull my hair out!
I struggle sometimes with the Left – despite my politics being more than ever-so slightly left wing. I struggle with feminism too (I always have). So when they both – as they sometimes do – very publicly argue within themselves about something so extraordinarily simple (and it is) I wonder if I should say anything at all, or say nothing and hover in the background, perhaps occasionally handing out tissues.
Because to me, it’s obvious. (And if that comes across as being patronizing or arrogant then I am sorry, because I do not mean to be).
It does not matter (not one jot) who you are, where you are, what gender you are, what gender you have been, whether you are religious or not, or poor or not, or a child or purple, with antennae. If you are being oppressed because of the gender you are, or the gender you were, or your race or your class or your age – or your antennae – then WE, the human race, should acknowledge, apologise for it, and stop it from happening again.
I know that it is simplistic to say so. I am not naive. So when the Left and feminists (both movements born from the need and desire for equality) act and speak as though there are better fights to win, or that one person’s injured feelings are more important (as with Julie Burchill today) – I remind myself (both in my day to day life and by checking in with those I follow on twitter) that there are so many good people, who get it. Who actually actively seek to learn about it if they don’t. Who try. And who care. You inspire me.
I remind myself that are people whose oppression has not yet been recognized or respected or heard, and who continue to live their lives as they feel called to – women who became women because that is their identity, yet live with indifference at best (and hate, at worst) from other women. Your courage humbles me.
And to the Left and those well known feminists who fail to see that what has happened or what they’ve done is so wrong, who do not get why this matters – I say this:
It matters because if some of us are not equal, none of us are. It matters because if we cannot treat all with respect, then we failed to be respectful. It’s important because if victories are won when this is unaddressed amongst ourselves, then the victory is hollow. And it shames us all when one person’s equality comes at the expense of another.
(And if you wonder how as a Christian it can matter at all when so many in my Church fail to get their head’s around homosexuality – let alone trans-gendered women and men – I choose to take some things very literally. The bit about ‘there is no male and female'(3) in Christ for example. And breaking the chains of oppression, because God meant to set us free from it, since oppression is so much the work of man.)
UPDATE: The Julie Burchill article has been removed from the Observer website and an apology has been issued by the Editor. 15.01.2013
(3) Galatians 3:28
(4) Isaiah 58: 6-12