This is personal

I cried last night. Long, hard, sad.

I cried and then, because it was far too late, I turned out the light and rocked myself to sleep.

A lot of reasons, but the proximate, the main was a piece in today’s Observer by Julie Burchill. I won’t link to it – if you really care, go find it yourself (but be warned: it is seriously triggering) – , because what I want to say today, here, isn’t about the words used, the precise arguments made or references put.

No. Its about feelings and emotion. Compassion. Feminism at its most basic.

The trans week that was:bad news and bullying

Its been a difficult week for trans folk. Beginning with what looked and felt like an attack on our health care, continuing with a silly spat between Suzanne Moore and a number of activists, somewhat amplified by a twitter tendency to reduce debate to name-calling. Mostly, if I have something serious to say to someone I don’t tweet it. I e-mail. Or pick up the phone.

Then Julie Bindel leapt in. And today Ms Burchill. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The trans community were bullying Ms Moore and this should stop forthwith. Which is a sentiment I agree with and, while some will claim the twitter outbursts to have been justified, I won’t agree.

Not because, à la Bindel, I believe some sort of “trans cabal” has it in for those who fail to toe the party line. Like, Ms M writes something that isn’t quite up to scratch; whereupon the trans central committee instantly dispatches the virtual equivalent of a squadron of X-wing fighters to beat her up online. What a quaint idea!

Its more a starling thing: the way flocks wheel in unison, responding to some subtle change in the atmosphere, as opposed to following the uber-starling leader. Though the effect is not dissimilar. When a bunch of people spot that you’ve written something they disagree with – whether on gay rights or circumcision – and some start to call you names on twitter and the rest just pick up the popcorn and come along to watch: the net effect, whether intended or not, is bullying.

I’ve been on the receiving end of that a few times. Its not nice. Terrifying, even. And while I suspect I attract a smaller bully following than the grandes dames above, I also get paid a lot less for my pains.

Jokey blokes and clever schoolboys

So, Moore makes a minor faux pas – the sort of journalistic equivalent of the mostly good guy who makes a slightly off joke at the xmas party before realising that he isn’t at the bar of his local rugby club any more. The community piles in. Moore defends. Bindel rallies. Yet more brickbats are hurled until today, Burchill sallies forth with a piece of such dripping venom that I found it hard to believe anyone could write such stuff and live with their conscience.

Still, this is doing what I didn’t mean to, falling into intellectual deconstruction of the event. Whereas, for me, the issue is much simpler. I briefly fenced with the Guardian’s David Batty earlier this week. Then backed off, because I had no stomach to deal with his tone, his manner which was about as clever-clever as that of the posh public schoolboy, putting on a point by point defence of an argument “because he can”.

Yeah, yeah. We all know that, in intellectual-land, you can defend pretty much anything you want so long as you’re quick enough on your feet, prepared to pick every nit, and trip your “opponent” up on something they said three tweets back.

But that says it all, that paragraph. Look at the language I just used: “opponents”, “tripping up”. It’s the language of combat: the stuff that boys do so well. The discussion becomes a debate between opposing points of view: mostly whether “offense” confers some notional right to interfere with the free speech of others.

There is, somewhere in this, a seductive – and wrong – line of thinking. The very idea that it is a debate to be “won” or “lost”, which itself reeks of macho, masculinist politics. And its there on both sides: there, too, in the rhetorical digs about whether the Observer would be as keen to publish a piece making rude remarks about “faggots” or “queers”.

Let’s communicate, share, and stop arguing

A more apt simile, for me, is that of the insensitive legal expert, holding forth with some abstruse argument about rape. No, its not equivalent (before someone picks up that and says I’m saying that rape and verbal abuse are identical). But the insensitivity to how an audience may feel about an argument and the language used, the idea that its all about content and nothing to do with feelings, has direct, horrid parallels.

This isn’t about winning, at least not in the sense above. I admire Suzanne Moore. For all that Julie Bindel and I disagree fundamentally on some issues, I support her on others. I’d enjoy meeting them, talking to them, sharing with them. I don’t want to fight them.

Most of all, though, I’d ask everyone spewing forth anger and bile in this context to stop and think about what, exactly you are doing. Another individual I admire much – Bidisha – observed a couple of years back that she did her best to avoid this sort of argument with other feminists, because women as a whole had far greater issues to deal with and didn’t need to be wasting time and energy fighting with one another. Seconded!

Kindness and caring: the values we need

Beyond that, would someone please think, briefly, of the effect this stuff is having on the vulnerable. Sure, I do emotion like falling off a log. And I’m a sucker for the idea that a lot could be achieved just by people being NICE to one another. It’s a standing joke amongst friends that “Jane needs a box of tissues to get through the average rom com”. But I have friends. I have a support network. I have a degree of inner strength.

Not everyone does. Its hard enough transitioning without having to fight the system as well. But many have to. Its hard enough fighting that without abuse in the streets from the idiots who think you’re an easy target. But people do.

And when all that is said and done, its lonely and frightening and seriously depressing to pick up your weekend paper and read that you and your kind are nothing other than bullies and people have a right to – nay, have a duty to – get angry at you.

That’s not kind.

(and if you think that’s a weak finish to some deeply-held sentiments, think again: in my book, kindness is a much under-rated virtue and one that caps pretty much all the point scoring of the week gone by).

jane xx

12 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Lucy Melford said,

    Wanting to agree, and not to argue, is the best way forward.

    I had a tussle with the radfem site GenderTrender over the New Year. It made me feel very unhappy, because I was so misunderstood, and because the bad attitude on their side seemed so implacable. I wondered what had made them that way – and that was a depressing line of thought too.

    We have so much in common with natal women who want to see fairness and mutual respect prevail. Why then the conflict?

    By the way, I suppose that the vast majority of the general public are completely oblivious to this vicious war of words. Meaning that neither we, nor the radfems, nor any other group, are anything more than a side-issue in the national consciousness. At least for now. It could all get serious and very public, if somebody involved really does see red, and takes executive action, and deals out terrorist-style death. I’d like to think that the Police have made contingency plans to protect individuals and apprehend the perpetrators.


    • 2

      My God Lucy…you went into bat with GenderTrender?! What could possibly have possessed you!? Poison leaches out of every pixel on that site – the radfem equivalent of the Westboro Baptist Church. Pure hate.

  2. 3

    Jonathan said,

    As for Julie Bindel, I think she’s just very tired at having been a pariah for so long – all about something she wrote years ago and has since retracted. It didn’t help either that, when she tried to hold out a hand recently, Paris basically spat on it. Personally, I don’t think it does any good at all to keep hounding her.

  3. 5

    Caroline said,

    She wrote a vile bucket of bile which in any other case would have never seen a chance of print but”T” world is the last officially sanctioned target!

    as usual the commentators showed that over three generations they have learned very little about the medical condition we have been subjected to, show disbelief when presented with published statistics on suicide rates , murder rates and homelessness!

    I doubt that writing to the editor telling them that this evidence of public ignorance is down to their inability to report correctly on a public health matter will do much good, but I tried…

  4. 6

    Julie Bindel said,

    Respect, Jane x

  5. 7

    Jessica said,

    beautifully written, you my dear have gained another ‘follower/stalker/statistic’ delete as applicable =)

    just a bit miffed as am halfway through writing something along the same lines when a freind posted this to facebook. start as you meant to go along I guess?

    peace and smiles. Jess.

  6. 8

    The thing that got to me about Ms Burchill’s article was that she attacked _all_ transsexual people – and their supporters (whatever that means) – for the perceived crimes of just a handful of people. That’s a very dangerous road to go down.

  7. 9

    what a lovely blog….I like julie bindel too

  8. 10

    zoebrain said,

    I too value kindness. It’s easy to be kind to friends and those we agree with, harder but even more necessary to be kind to those we don’t agree with,

    We’re also none of us perfect.

    There may come a time though when you have to walk away, when (for whatever reason), someone uses your kindness as a weapon to do you harm, and revels in it, simply because they can. It gives them a rush. That’s who they are. This may be a temporary aberration due to hurt (Julie Burchill), or a chronic condition due to personal history (Bev Jo), or because they’re sociopaths.

    Saying nothing about it is the highest form of disrespect though. They are adults, and responsible for their own actions, words and deeds.

  9. 11

    kathz said,

    Having been alerted to the horrible article, I felt I’d better post a comment on it. I posted the following:

    “Julie Burchill, You do not speak for all working-class women nor for all those who were born women. This article lacks both wit and decency. It also lacks intelligence. Trans people are not a single lobby-group with a single point of view, as you suggest. They are as diverse a group of humans as any other. If you are offended by hateful words intended to stir up hatred, I suggest you also desist from stirring up hatred. Your language may cause distress and damage to people you have never met and who were entirely unaware of the controversy you discuss. Can you really think that’s OK just because the people who are hurt (people from a range of backgrounds and with a huge range of views on all sorts of matters) do not happen to be your friends?”

    It’s not as well-phrased as I would like and there a couple of parts I wish I could re-write – I was struggling with the language and trying to be critical in measured tones. But I was one of very many people who were appalled at the article and who, on seeing it, felt obliged to speak at once, as best they could. It’s time to assert sisterhood, common humanity and, as you say Jane, the importance of kindness.

  10. 12

    makomk said,

    Suzanne Moore’s comment was apparently less of a subtle faux pas and more of a subtle dig by someone with a whole bunch of transphobic views, though:

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