A different point of view on the Moore thing.

For the full background on this story, you might like to read Suzanne Moore’s original piece about the importance of female anger in the New Statesman here, followed by @Stavvers’ breakdown of who subsequently said what, here (brace yourself, Moore gets rather colourful), and Paris Lees’ superb, gentle, open letter to Moore, here. I could have linked to Julie Burchill’s “defence” of Moore in Sunday’s Observer, but it is straightforward hate speech against trans women, and I don’t want to give it more traffic than it deserves.


I’m going to keep this short. I think it is important. There is an outcry on twitter about Suzanne Moore having left. She has left twitter after a row that was sparked after she used “Brazilian transexuals” (meaning trans women) as shorthand for “a body type all women aspire to but which none of us will attain because it is, by definition, not female.” (Latter quote my words, not hers.) Everyone who read those two words in the context of her otherwise excellent article about what is being done to women could not fail to understand her meaning. And on the surface of it, her meaning appeared to be without malice.

But the image those two words “Brazilian transexual” sum up, used in that context, is insulting. It’s basically saying “trans women! You don’t look like REAL women.”

That may not have been her intention – indeed I suspect it wasn’t. But if it was not her intention, it was the clumsy outcome nonetheless. People took her up on this. She responded horribly, which we are all wont to do sometimes, and made everything worse. It’s documented elsewhere, I have no intention of re-hashing it here. And the next day she left twitter.

Well, here’s the thing. I love a punchy feminist, and while there are lots about, Suzanne Moore has a unique voice and is high-profile. She’s important to feminism. We want to keep her, please. I respect her experience of decades of progressive liberation, of and from gender, of and from cis sexuality, and her experience of decades of women being second class citizens, clawing their way up, being stamped down again. (Though it must be said that that history is as much a handicap in some ways as it is an advantage, and this incident is a prime example of that.)

But if you’re going to write in a devil-may-care way, un-heedful of causing offence, you’re going to have to deal with the consequences. The rules of being a punchy fucker are short and sweet. They go:

1) Punch the right target.
2) Be aware they will punch you back.

I believe she fell down on 1). Because the target in this case is the people who are oppressing women – all women, cis and trans. And she ended up in a big ol’ bunfight with trans activists.

Somehow what has emerged from this is that the trans activists are in the wrong, that they were over-sensitive, wanted to be offended, and that they should have shut up and put up for the greater good.

Wait, WHAT?

Moore leaves. Suddenly on twitter we’ve got trans activists bullying a mainstream, successful feminist columnist off the site. And there are an awful lot of people saying how ghastly that is, how counter-productive for feminism. How people should set aside these petty offences in the name of the greater cause of all women – trans and cis and every sort – banding together against a greater evil. People are saying that intersectionality (you might want to google that if you don’t already know what it is), is diluting and undermining valid arguments against the crushing problems women (or any oppressed set of people) face.

And that is an absurd thing to say. ABSURD.

If the only way I, as a born-XX woman (that is a privilege), can achieve social equality for women is by telling another set of women to take their over-sensitivities and offence and choke them back, then the equality I achieve by definition is not equality. It is me first, you second.

If the left is about equality and if feminism is about women, then in the left, everyone should have an equal voice, and in feminism, all women should have an equal voice. Nobody – NOBODY – should be required to button their lip until we get to some unidentified benchmark in the great struggle for equality, whereafter their concerns will magically become valid.

If I am offended by someone remarking on my tits on a bus, that’s valid. If a trans woman is offended by a high profile journalist writing something insulting about her body, that’s every bit as valid.

I hope she comes back. I like her. Feminism needs her. I think this was basically a disconnect, a misunderstanding, and it blew up and people got hurt and things were said. But if the price of her return is that trans women have to shut up and put up, then no, I’m not paying it.

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12 Responses to A different point of view on the Moore thing.

  1. lysana says:

    Look. I realize you think this is important. I’m afraid you have made a couple of large mistakes in this little piece, though. First, if you want to be seen as even remotely clueful about trans issues, you simply *cannot* use terminology like “born-XX woman.” For one, have you been tested to be sure you aren’t a genetic chimera? Second, are you aware of the number of men who were born with two X chromosomes? Those mean nothing to gender. Period. You and I both are cisgender. That’s the term. Use it.

    Second, what you did there is still belittling trans voices. You call it a “misunderstanding.” It was an attack. She used hateful language. She clearly belittled and othered trans women over and over again. Her intent means nothing when the injury is the issue. And neither of us as cis women are allowed to claim it was anything else because we were not the targets and it’s not our call to make.

    I’m beyond tired of cis feminists being given this much slack for their bigotry and hatred. Moore was being anti-trans from the get-go and merely made it clearer. Nothing to misunderstand. Her anti-trans hatred is perfectly doctrinaire for second-wave feminism. Acting like she was merely confused or whatever is kissing up to the bigots and denying the truth of trans women’s reality.

    • chiller says:

      I may suspect that you are right about Moore, but I am not psychic and I don’t know. All I DO know is that at the point where she started using violent imagery I became deeply uncomfortable with even being associated with her by reading her. Her original sin (as it were) in the piece I linked above is the possible “disconnect, a misunderstanding” I refer to.

      What she said subsequently was straightforwardly horrible, but the specifics of what she said and even that she said it, is almost tangential to this piece, which is more about how shocked I was by the number of suggestions I saw that the furore was the fault of trans activists for being offended. Basically this piece was triggered by Moore, but is about how we frame the blame for a row and end up, yet again, lumping it on the heads of a minority (and why is that? Again, I suspect bigotry, and the ever present urge to suck up to the person who already has privilege and power). It is that that derails feminism, not trans activists or intersectionality, and I get very frustrated by suggestions to the contrary. Is my point.

      I do not identify as cisgender, and I would really appreciate it if you would not make assumptions about me.

      My chromosome point – which I am happy to accept was ignorantly expressed (and I understand your point and shan’t do that again, though what I was referring to was not – as you assumed – my gender, but specifically my sex), is that my sex carries with it a set of privileges whether or not I am cisgender.

      I’m mindful of the fact that this blog is read by a lot of people who haven’t run across terms like “cis” (hence my exhortation to google “intersectionality”). I don’t want to write in a way that makes people feel as if what I write isn’t something intended for them to read. These issues are about basic equality. Everyone needs to invest in that idea. Clearly, I will have to work harder to be inclusive without stuffing my foot in it next time. I am now mindful of that, and thanks for the heads-up.

      This blog isn’t a voice for trans women – or indeed for any group or idea or subject. It is my blog. But yeah. I am fed to the back teeth with the trans hating as well.

      • Karen Barclay says:

        I have no idea was ‘cis’ refers to. Someone told me once, but I’ve forgotten… But – labels aside – I don’t think it’s ever acceptable to be nasty to someone purely because they exist esp. as womens’ body image problems absolutely do not stem from having to look like a Brazilian transsexual (they’re not the ‘tiny hips, big boobs’ standard bearers)…. Even those of us who know nothing about these ideological-sounding debates (& came across them by reading about The Guardian articles) can agree with that (I hope).

  2. Peter Ellis says:

    I agree there was an undercurrent of transphobia right from the start. If she’d wanted to reference “unattainable ideal”, then “Barbie doll” would have been a more sensible image to reference.

  3. Rachel Elsey says:

    It’s the cutting our dicks off stuff that tends to get us riled up to tell the truth. Sometimes you worry that when people are put under pressure their guard is let down and their true feelings come pouring out. http://storify.com/leftytgirl/suzanne-moore-timeline-of-trans-misogynistic-twitt … to tell the truth I don’t think any of us come off well from this and it only really help those who would oppress all women, whatever their background, as you say.

    • chiller says:

      Yeah it was that line (and a bunch of stuff about refusing to recognise words she didn’t like, while accusing others of trying to affect/limit the way she used language), that put my fur up. In fact I called her on it, but had no response. Hey ho.

  4. Jessica says:

    I read a lot of her Twitter replies to people. I understand she felt under fire. I can’t say I have a lot of sympathy. That is the nature of the job she is in and the nature of the internet. Nobody should have to deal with threats, so I don’t approve of the ones saying she should die and or get raped. But that also is part of the internet, however gross it may be. Anonymous people tend to hurt horrible things because there is a lack of real world consequences. However, MOST of what she received was just heated criticism. I judge people by how they react to adversity and being intellectually challenged. Suzanne, just like Lena Duhnam, Caitlin Moran, and a whole host of other feminist women react poorly when criticized and often decide when feeling backed into an intellectual corner lash out like petulant children. If that behavior is suppose to represent all women it’s no wonder we don’t achieve more. People need to learn to accept constructive criticism. Especially when they all entered into arenas supposing to “speak for women” and talk about the issues women face. For me I’m far more concerned about the rights of transgender women than I am about Moran or Moore’s comments about leg shaving and whatever working class nonsense my emotions about could fit into a teacup bang on about. I want serious change by serious people and it’s time the pretenders left the stage.

    • chiller says:

      Couldn’t agree more with the “petulant children” comment, and the same goes for leg-shaving. Equality means everyone, or it means nothing.

  5. Dawnbreaker says:

    I would’ve read the original “Brazilian transsexual” line as meaning an idealized female figure unattainable without serious surgery (for either cis or transwomen) if it hadn’t been for Moore’s follow-up comments. Honestly, I think to attack her over that one line (which to me could be read in several different ways, though this may be my cisgender privilege showing) was unnecessary. Basically, one could then have given her the benefit of the doubt, but her responses since then show that she did mean it offensively, or even if she didn’t, that she holds extremely problematic views about transpeople. And then, of course, Julie Burchill weighed in :/

    • chiller says:

      Yes, I initially pegged the term as clumsy, but not necessarily malicious – but the flat refusal to say “I chose my words badly” highlighted her position on trans women.

  6. Pingback: Moore, Burchill and the Web – A Timeline « Trans Media Action Blog

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