Friday Links


First, a wee bit of shameless self-promotion. My second post at Spirituality Ireland, Atheism and Me: A Brief History, is up today. Enjoy! Now for what everyone else has been up to: starting with Alan Flanagan’s take on the very same thing. Moving on quickly, though, to…

Abortion

If you’re a giant nerd (hello!) and are curious as to the conversation about how we can legislate for abortion in Ireland, head on over to Human Rights in Ireland’s Summary of the Joint Committee on Health and Children Hearings on Abortion. Atheist Ireland’s Michael Nugent was one of the witnesses- check out his contribution. Speaking of the political side of things, Jen at Red Wine and Brie wonders how abortion made Ireland forget that we’re a democracy.

Over at ramp.ie, Lisa McInerney has a few questions for the overseas backers of Ireland’s major antichoice groups. Y’know, questions like why people who claim to care about people’s lives manage to completely ignore the welfare of the postborn in favour of giant billboards and free iPads.

Sharrow discusses nuts ‘n’ bolts practicalities in Abortion Training for Irish Doctors, and shares the story of women forced to illegally obtain medical abortions. Having abortions without medical supervision is risky, but Irish people who can’t travel outside the country are left with no choice.

The Cedar Lounge Revolution talk about how we’ve finally started to talk about abortion. About time, too! Although at the Joint Committee Hearings earlier this month, Maman Poulet points out that the 12 women a day forced to travel overseas for abortion are still being referred to as ‘These Women‘.

I’m trying to keep discussions of abortion as Irish-based as possible but damnit, I can’t stop myself sharing Libby Anne asking a question that we should ask far more than we do. Is Abortion A Tragedy? And I’m slightly cheating with this, but here’s Sharrow’s reblogging of Ms Magazine’s mythbusting on medical abortions.

Finally, a change of topic

Enough about abortion (for now)! Let’s talk about queer things. Dae from Queereka has a two-part series on Myths and Misconceptions of Bisexuality (or, what not to say to your bisexual acquaintances). Here’s part one, and here’s two. If that did nothing but whet your appetite for more bisexuality-related reading, fear not! The (frackin’ amazing) Shiri over at Bi Radical’s gotten a list together of ten recommended articles on bisexuality for your perusal. I know I’ll be sitting down with a bookmachine, a cuppa, and that lot over the next few days. And if you haven’t had your mind blown by Julia Serano lately- or even if you have- give Bisexuality and Binaries Revisited a click.

It’s been a few days since we’ve talked about Lobstergate. So here’s CN Lester on Burchill, anger, and where we go from here. And Queereka’s Yessenia takes down rad fem transphobia with It’s My Oppression And You Can’t Have Any.

Over at my very own Feminist Ire, Wendy Lyon takes down the idea that violence decreases under the Nordic model of sex work.

Speaking of sex (and don’t we all?), check out Red Wine & Brie on the ridiculous ways we view people with disabilities and sexuality. And then pop over to the Pervocracy (which you’re doing anyway, right?) for Cliff’s take on researching sexuality and circumstantial evidence. And as you’re over at Red Wine & Brie, Jen has something to say on gender and the hijacking of legitimate discussions.

It is the weekend, right?

Fiiiiiiiine. It’s the weekend, you’ve had a long week, your eyes are googly and brain is mush from the thinking. Have a story: Introvert Fairy Tales have a lovely take on the Princess And The Pea.

In case you get away from the keyboard and we actually have a clear night or three, Scibernia’ve put together a list of astronomical events to look forward to in 2013. Planets! Stars! Meteors! Great big comets! I am very excited!

And Doc Brown shares a sentiment I’ve daydreamed about the odd time myself:

 

 

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A Total Eclipse of the Linkspam


On #lobstergate, Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill:

Targeting trans women, or the pathetic pastime of increasingly irrelevant wealthy people

We must remember it is crucial to critique the structures that keep enabling people like Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill to get away with having trans misogynist, transphobic and racist hate speech published in a newspaper with a supposed commitment to social justice. The sheer cronyism in the journalistic world, the way in which mass-media journalism has mutated into the PR arm of corporations, and the way in which it can and often is used to uphold the status quo, are all equally relevant to the problem.

Today it’s trans* women, tomorrow it’s Palestinians, asylum seekers, immigrants in general, women in general, the unemployed, the poor, and anyone else that doesn’t walk through the offices of a major news organisation as anything but the cleaning staff (who are not invited to the champagne dinners).

We must keep counteracting these kind of hateful tirades at every corner, particularly from those who present themselves as our allies in the struggle for a more fair society. Solidarity needs to be expanded among people from all walks of life, and we need to keep examining the overlapping issues of privilege/oppression in terms of race, in terms of disability, trans status, sexuality, gender and migrant status. But it is crucial that we remember the underlying systems of power, which continue to work against us, and which will look for us even in the safest of places.

Suzanne Moore, Freedom of Speech and Uneven Platforms

 Those same people who died for Moore’s right to offend also died for our right to offend Suzanne Moore by holding demos. It was an attempt to address this inequality of platform. Far from being threatening, it was a public attempt at holding people and institutions accountable for the wrongs they have committed. They probably do find this somewhat threatening, many being used to not having to hear criticism, particularly not as instantaneously as in the digital age. Yet it is a different threat entirely to the mainstream media closing ranks against an oppressed minority: this is where the harm came from, and it will continue to do so until they change.

It’s mighty disingenous of Suzanne Moore to claim to believe in free speech, yet continue to play the victim when those she upset hold her accountable. This, too, is free speech, it’s just words she doesn’t want to hear. She has the platform and the power to obfuscate the truth, while those she has harmed cannot so readily make their voices heard.

Intersectionality, Solidarity and Sense

I also find it bizarre that intersectionality is supposed to be such a difficult concept to grasp. I’ve now seen several people argue that people are being asked to waste time trying to understand it when they could be devoting themselves directly to The Struggle. That’s like advising an army to go to war without wasting time on training. Anti-intellectualism is never pretty but in this case t borders on the ridiculous. The public is now largely familiar with the concept of people potentially being members of stigmatised groups. The average person understands that some people have a harder time in life because they’re female or because they have dark skin. Is it so tricky to grasp that a woman might be black or that a gay man might be disabled? Is it so hard to understand that we all have advantages and disadvantages, and that these might sometimes compound each other? The angst about privilege obscures the real point – that if you’re not a dick to people, and if you apologise when you upset someone by accident, you’ll get along just fine. Want to avoid causing accidental upset in the first place? Then, as journalists should know, there’s this thing called research.

Other Things:

Who would want an abortion?

I have no hope, I lost it a while ago and have found myself searching for it in strange places, in the FAS office, on the pages of Monster, in emigration visa forms, in my child’s face. Time and time again, letter after email thanking me for my interest or informing me that I failed to meet the criteria, another day of struggling to make ends meet and the small glimmer, that 13 will be a lucky number, that this year we will escape, that poverty is just a temporary state, that you are of worth, is scuppered by a few lines in windows on the cheapest pregnancy test I could get.

I’m pregnant, I’m in a long term relationship, I love him, and I know I would love this baby, but I can’t bring a child into this. I cannot have a baby and no job, no future, no escape. I know I should have been more careful, one mistake in 7 years, part of me is thankful, a small collection of cells reminding me that life continues outside of this daily stress, that those pills I take to make life bearable and save me from the suicidal mess I was in before are not the only thing that could bring joy. I find myself sobbing, the big loud body shaking sobs that rattle your soul, although I guess I don’t have one of those considering what I’m forced to consider.

Why I’m Changing My Name

“Don’t change too much, we like you the way you are.”

Maybe I’m snatching an insult out of the jaws of a compliment, here. I’m willing to admit that’s possible. But if I don’t like me the way I am, shouldn’t I be allowed to change as much as I deem appropriate? I don’t even want to ask how much is too much, because that implies that I care if I change “too much” for my parents’ tastes. Truth is, I don’t. They’re going to love me or not love me however much and in whatever way they decide. It’s taken me decades to realize that I don’t have control over whether or not they love and understand me. It’s not my responsibility.

I have a problem with “we like you the way you are.” The way I am is not the way I am – it’s the way they think I am. And that is a lie; that is a trap. The way they think I am is a prison cell, and I have been confined my whole life. It wasn’t until I moved away that I first breathed free air.

“Love Yourself”: A Beautiful But Flawed Idea

When we prescribe ways of thinking or feeling, failing to follow them becomes stigmatized. Not loving yourself and your body isn’t just unhealthy anymore, it’s uncool. It’s immature. I wrote once a long time ago about how a classmate told me that loving yourself is actually a prerequisite for being a good person–implying (accidentally, I hope) that not loving yourself means you’re not a good person.

Not loving yourself means you have Issues and Baggage and all of those other unsexy things. It means you just haven’t Tried Hard Enough to Love Who You Truly Are. Loving yourself and your body becomes the normative state, not an extra perk that some are able to achieve. For instance,someone wrote on Tumblr in response to an article I posted about makeup that “girls should learn to love themselves before fucking around with eyeliner.” Loving yourself is a requirement, according to this person, for something as basic as putting on makeup.

Maybe this would be fair, except for this: according to our society, we are not all equally worthy of love.

The Feministiest Feminist That Ever Feministed


From the comments on Julie Burchill, the brilliant Pennyposh (whose blog you should absolutely go read immediately) had this to say and it bears repeating. Over and over and over again:

The point is not to be the feministiest feminist that ever feministed. The point is compassion for our fellow human beings. It’s about the freedom to be, the freedom to express ourselves in whatever way we feel fits us best. It’s about freedom from prejudice and hatred and bile, freedom from arbitrary societal expectations. It’s about the basic human right to simply exist as you are. It is the right to simply be oneself, free from the hatred of others.

Any time you are not fighting for that right, you are not fighting for feminism.
If you fancy seeing more of that Penny has to say, she’s expanded on the topic today with Feminism is a Human Rights Movement. You could do a lot worse than having a click of it, I’d say. She’s only been blogging there a month or so but she has oodles of brilliant stuff up already. 

Julie Burchill and trans women.


I was going to write something fairly light-hearted today and pop it in the queue for next week. Maybe get working on one of the stack of comics I have notes sketched out for. Maybe talk about how I just started roller derby, or share a few badly-lit phone pics from Glasgow. Waffle on about love and creativity and how I can’t seem to think up a halfway decent derby name. Maybe finally share my to-die-for vegan chili recipe.

You’re all going to have to wait for the chili, though, because Julie Burchill is at it again with one of the most sickeningly vile transphobic screeds I have ever heard. I’m not exaggerating, by the way. I’m a reasonably-thick-skinned cis person. Trans hate speech isn’t directed at me. It took me several tries to get through this article. Trigger warning, therefore, for the rest of this for violently transphobic language as well as racism. Let’s see what Burchill has to say. I’m not going to link to the article, by the way, as I have no desire to give her more traffic. If you want to look it up, it’s in Comment Is Free in the Guardian, and the title is Transsexuals Should Cut It Out. Classy, Julie. Classy. Here we go:

The brilliant writer Suzanne Moore and I go back a long way. I first met her when she was a young single mother living in a council flat; she took me out to interview me about my novel Ambition (republished by Corvus Books this spring, since you ask) for dear dead City Limits magazine. “I’ve got an entertaining budget of £12.50!” she said proudly. “Sod that, we’re having lobster and champagne at Frederick’s and I’m paying,” I told her. Half a bottle of Bolly later, she looked at me with faraway eyes: “Ooo, I could get to like this…” And so she did.

I have observed her rise to the forefront of this country’s great polemicists with a whole lot of pride – and just a tiny bit of envy. I am godmother to her three brilliant, beautiful daughters. Though we differ on certain issues we will have each other’s backs until the sacred cows come home.

So Julie has a friend called Suzanne, and Suzanne used to be broke but now they’re both relatively loaded. That’s nice. It sure is lovely when people get recognition for doing the things they love, isn’t it? Let’s see what’s next..

With this in mind, I was incredulous to read that my friend was being monstered on Twitter, to the extent that she had quit it, for supposedly picking on a minority – transsexuals. Though I imagine it to be something akin to being savaged by a dead sheep, as Denis Healey had it of Geoffrey Howe, I nevertheless felt indignant that a woman of such style and substance should be driven from her chosen mode of time-wasting by a bunch of dicks in chicks’ clothing.

Oh. I see what you were doing there, Julie. Dicks in chicks clothing. Because DID YOU KNOW that trans* women are born with differently shaped genitalia than cis women? Did you know that? And the shape of a person’s genitals is super relevant to everything else about them. I know it’s the first thing I want to know when I meet a new person.

Also, Suzanne’s style and substance are important. Trans women don’t have either, you see. It’s not like they’re real people or anything- just caricatures. Also, as feminists we’re very interested in people’s style. Women’s style is the first thing we should be interested about them! I mean, apart from the shape of their genitals. Naturally.

To my mind – I have given cool-headed consideration to the matter – a gaggle of transsexuals telling Suzanne Moore how to write looks a lot like how I’d imagine the Black and White Minstrels telling Usain Bolt how to run would look. That rude and ridic.

Wait, what? Minstrels? Minstrels? Right, regular readers of the Tea Cosy will have been around for the last time we had that discussion. I’m just going to make something clear here. Burchill is saying that trans women can be compared to cis women in the same way that minstrels in blackface can be compared to Usain Bolt.

To that, I’ve got nothing. I can’t say something witty and biting about why this is messed-up, because she has gone so far over the line of unacceptability. Let’s move on.

Here’s what happened. In a book of essays called Red: The Waterstones Anthology, Suzanne contributed a piece about women’s anger. She wrote that, among other things, women were angry about “not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual”. Rather than join her in decrying the idea that every broad should aim to look like an oven-ready porn star, the very vociferous transsexual lobby and their grim groupies picked on the messenger instead.

Huh. I’m a grim groupie! As, it seems, is everyone that agrees that trans and cis people are equal and deserving of the same dignity. Sounds like a pretty damn good bandwagon to be on, if you ask me.

Here, Burchill misses the point, as usual, by a mile. We’re not picking on the messenger. We’re decrying the idea that being Brazilian and trans* gives a woman the body of an “oven-ready porn star”. Whatever, by the way, an oven-ready porn star is. I’m not sure why Burchill is talking about putting women in ovens, but maybe there’s a turn of phrase I’m not familiar with here. Either that, or just terrible writing. And bigotry.

I must say that my only experience of the trans lobby thus far was hearing about the vile way they have persecuted another of my friends, the veteran women’s rights and anti-domestic violence activist Julie Bindel – picketing events where she is speaking about such minor issues as the rape of children and the trafficking of women just because she refuses to accept that their relationship with their phantom limb is the most pressing problem that women – real and imagined – are facing right now.

And now Burchill confesses her absolute ignorance of trans activism or trans people. Normally, by the way, when you know that you’re absolutely ignorant of a subject it’s considered polite to learn about it before pontificating in a national paper. Julie’s distillation of trans issues to people’s “relationship with their phantom limb” is a bit of a giveaway of how she knows absolutely nothing about real trans people’s actual lives and concerns. Also, her obsession with other people’s genitals continues to be troubling.

Similarly, Suzanne’s original piece was about the real horror of the bigger picture – how the savagery of a few old Etonians is having real, ruinous effects on the lives of the weakest members of our society, many of whom happen to be women. The reaction of the trans lobby reminded me very much of those wretched inner-city kids who shoot another inner-city kid dead in a fast-food shop for not showing them enough “respect”. Ignore the real enemy – they’re strong and will need real effort and organisation to fight. How much easier to lash out at those who are conveniently close to hand!

This is interesting. Not because it is accurate, but because it is an argument that I hear a lot in activist circles. There are those who argue that worrying about issues of gender, disability, race, orientation or other ways in which people are marginalised distracts from the real issue of whatever it is we’re protesting today. Pointing out misogyny in atheist communities? Distracting From The Real Issues. Mentioning that LGBT activism can be overly-white and ignore POC? Distracting From The Real Issues. And so on and so forth.

This is exactly what Burchill is doing. Sexism and classism, to Burchill, are Real Issues that we need to focus on. It doesn’t occur to her that poor people and women can be trans as well as cis. It doesn’t occur to her that the problem is not that trans activists are offended, but that they were used in the first place in a stereotyped, marginalising way to make someone else’s argument. You don’t fight racism or classism or ableism with misogyny, and if you do then you’d better expect some pissed off women. Similarly, you don’t fight classism or misogyny with racist transphobia, and if you do? You’re going to expect some pissed off trans people and POC.

But they’d rather argue over semantics. To be fair, after having one’s nuts taken off (see what I did there?) by endless decades in academia, it’s all most of them are fit to do. Educated beyond all common sense and honesty, it was a hoot to see the screaming mimis accuse Suze of white feminist privilege; it may have been this that made her finally respond in the subsequent salty language she employed to answer her Twitter critics: “People can just fuck off really. Cut their dicks off and be more feminist than me. Good for them.”

With “having their nuts taken off” and “cut their dicks off”, Burchill continues her obsession with trans women’s genitalia. I’d be willing to bet that I spend less time thinking about other people’s genitalia while I am having sex with them than Burchill does every time she hears the term “trans woman”. Which is interesting, because a woman being trans tells you absolutely nothing about the current shape of her genitals. Which are irrelevant to everyone but her (and her partner(s)) anyway. It is a tad creepy.

Oh, also, trans women are “screaming mimis”. Again, I’m not quite sure what a ‘mimi’ is and a quick google came up with enough different options that I’ll officially designate this Bad Communication. Burchill’s tone, however, does remind me of people who accuse women of being “hysterical” and “shrill” when we raise our voices. Coincidence? I think not.

She, the other JB and I are part of the minority of women of working-class origin to make it in what used to be called Fleet Street and I think this partly contributes to the stand-off with the trannies. (I know that’s a wrong word, but having recently discovered that their lot describe born women as ‘Cis’ – sounds like syph, cyst, cistern; all nasty stuff – they’re lucky I’m not calling them shemales. Or shims.) We know that everything we have we got for ourselves. We have no family money, no safety net. And we are damned if we are going to be accused of being privileged by a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs.

Remember the first paragraph? We’re back to the fact that Burchill has some friends. Which is, as I said before, nice. It’s good to have friends. I have friends myself, you know. I hope you do too. I am not sure how this is relevant.

Also, it’s Time For Slurs! Hey, how many transphobic slurs can one person use in a single paragraph? We have t****y, s*****e, s**m, and “bed-wetters in bad wigs”. Maybe Burchill has a better grasp of biology than I do, but as far as I’m aware gender identity and continence are unrelated. Also, I’m absolutely certain that since trans and cis people are all, in fact, mammalian, we have the same ability to grow hair. Again, alopecia is distinct from gender identity.

Of course, this isn’t about alopecia. This is about Burchill’s inability to understand that being trans is not the same as dressing in drag. That we’re talking about life, not performance art. Not, by the way, that many drag artists don’t identify on the trans* spectrum themselves! But Burchill claims to be talking about transexual women here. So she should really stick to the topic.

As for ‘cis’? Oh, Julie. Julie, Julie, Julie. Have you heard of Google? It’s very useful for looking up words you’re not quite sure of the definition of. I just popped “cisgender etymology” into Google and within seconds came up with this:

“Cisgender has its origin in the Latin-derived prefix cis-, meaning “to/this the near side,” which is antonymous with the Latin-derived prefix trans-. This usage can be seen in the cis-trans distinction in chemistry, or in the ancient Roman term Cisalpine Gaul (i.e., “Gaul on this side of the Alps”). In the case of gender, however, cis- refers to the alignment of gender identity with assigned gender”

See? It’s from Latin. Just like ‘trans’. If you want to blame someone for how the syllable sounds, you’re stuck with the ancient Romans. Who, by the way, would be a far better target for Julie’s bile since they’re all long dead and can’t be harmed by it.

It’s been noted before that cyberspace, though supposedly all new and shiny, is plagued by the age-old boredom of men telling women not to talk and threatening them with all kinds of nastiness if they persist in saying what they feel.

Pot. Kettle. Also, where are the men here? I didn’t see any conversations about men. I saw a conversation about trans women by a cis woman. But Burchill makes no effort to hide the fact that she doesn’t see trans women as women. Which is what blinds her to the fact that she is, in fact, telling trans women not to talk and threatening them with all kinds of nastiness if they persist in saying what they feel.

The trans lobby is now saying that it wasn’t so much the initial piece as Suzanne’s refusal to apologise when told to that “made” them drive her from Twitter. Presumably she is meant to do this in the name of solidarity and the “struggle”, though I find it very hard to imagine this mob struggling with anything apart from the English language and the concept of free speech.

I find it ironic that someone would accuse a group of struggling with the English language while butchering it herself. Burchill is also suffering from a lack of focus here. Are trans women overprivileged upper-class white PhDs with nothing better to do than undermine feminism? Or are they illiterates? C’mon, Julie. If you’re going to stereotype a massively diverse group of people you should at the very least pick a side.

Oh, and since Suzanne Moore’s original comment referred specifically to “Brazilian transsexuals”, it’s quite telling that Burchill criticises the people who responded for not having quite her command of English. Context, Julie. It’s important.

To have your cock cut off and then plead special privileges as women – above natural-born women, who don’t know the meaning of suffering, apparently – is a bit like the old definition of chutzpah: the boy who killed his parents and then asked the jury for clemency on the grounds he was an orphan.

Here we go back to Burchill’s questionable notions of biology. We saw above that she sees trans women as being unable to grow hair like the rest of us mammals. Now she refers to them as somehow apart from those of us who were “natural-born”. As far as I had been aware, trans people were born the same way as everyone else. Y’know. Pregnancy, labour, possible C-section. Someone cursing at someone else for knocking them up in the first place. Maybe an epidural, maybe not. In Burchill’s world, however, trans women are born.. unnaturally?

It would be funny, in a way. It would be, if it were not for the chilling fact that seeing others as unnatural is a profoundly dehumanising thing.

Also, I have no idea what she’s on about with the chutzpah thing. Non sequitors ahoy!

Okay, we’ve just got one paragraph left. Let’s get this over with:

Shims, shemales, whatever you’re calling yourselves these days – don’t threaten or bully us lowly natural-born women, I warn you. We may not have as many lovely big swinging Phds as you, but we’ve experienced a lifetime of PMT and sexual harassment and many of us are now staring HRT and the menopause straight in the face – and still not flinching. Trust me, you ain’t seen nothing yet. You really won’t like us when we’re angry.

I’m sorry, but I’m left lost for words.

Except for this: Julie Burchill, I am angry. I am angry both that you attack trans women in such a vile manner, and that you claim to speak for all cis women when you do so. How dare you? How dare you? You do not speak for me. I do and I always will stand beside my trans sisters who I have far more in common with than bigots like you. With whom, despite your protestations, I do share an experience of womanhood. There is nothing unnatural about being trans. There is, Ms Burchill, something unnatural about bigotry.

And you, Julie Burchill? If you think that this is acceptable? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

If you’re even half angry about this as I am, please sign this petition demanding an apology from the Guardian for publishing this vile excuse for an article. Official complaints about the article can also be made here.