‘Us lowly natural-born women’: not in my name, Burchill

Content warning: this post contains discussion of transphobia, trans-misogyny and hate speech, including direct quotations of the above. Links do not constitute endorsements.

“It’s never a good idea for those who feel oppressed to start bullying others in turn”. So ran the sub-heading for Julie Burchill’s Observer article about the supposed victimisation of Suzanne Moore by the “trans lobby” entitled ‘Transsexuals should cut it out’. It is a response to a saga which began a week or so ago with an article on female anger from Moore reprinted in the New Statesman which made a passing and ill-chosen reference to Brazilian transsexuals.

I’m not going to go into the whole story here, since it’s been covered extensively already. In brief: Moore received complaints, refused to apologise, made things worse with a series of inflammatory tweets (recorded here) and a second article, and finally left Twitter following the enormous backlash. Stavvers gives a more detailed overview of events here.

In truth, I had been trying to stay out of it, since I have an essay to finish. Having read the latest installment, though, I don’t think I can. The article is bizarre: as one Twitter user notes, it’s written like an angry, drunken rant  – and it’s very, very ugly. I can only assume that the Observer’s editors were also drunk at the time of publication.

Hopefully you’ve now caught up on Moore-gate, and you’re in a position to understand how the issue of intersectionality in feminism has come to the fore over the last few days. My take on it is this: if we expect our feminism to be meaningful, we have to recognise the struggles of others. That includes recognising our own privilege, and acknowledging that there are issues beyond those which affect us. Claiming that calls for trans* people to be respected and afforded basic human rights detracts from the bigger picture is a nonsense. And yet, that’s exactly what Julie Burchill does:

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”.

Burchill’s argument here is that we should not attack those on the same side as us: after all, we’re all adversely affected by the decisions of our current government, right? On the surface, her argument that we should avoid internal conflict in order to stand up to a common enemy might seem logical. Considered again, though, it’s no less flawed than calls for rape victims in Occupy camps not to report their assaults for fear of discrediting the movement, or the accusations that calling out misogyny is divisive in the atheist community.

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.

I don’t know what huge leap of logic has led Burchill to imagine all-out war between all the cis women and all the trans women of the world, that it’s ‘us against them’, and that we’re all on her side. As far as I can recall, I’ve never heard this kind of ‘us-and-them’ rhetoric used as explicitly as it is here in the Guardian before – or at least outside the context of politicians and wealth. I can’t conceive of the incredible level of self-involvement it would take to enable her to think that she is in a position to speak for all cis women on this issue. But apparently we’re all now in a great “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.

“Having recently discovered” the word ‘cis’ – a concept I struggle with, since surely no one can consider themselves qualified to talk about gender identity without it – I can only assume Burchill has not bothered to do the little research required to understand the term. ‘Cis’, short for ‘cisgender’,  is a Latin prefix meaning “on this/the same side as”. It describes someone whose gender identity is consistent with the gender they were assigned at birth, unlike that of a transgender person. So essentially, ‘cis’ and ‘trans’ are a lexical pairing, indicating difference but not attributing value. ‘Cis’ is an objective term used to avoid ‘othering’ people of differing gender identities; it is not offensive, and is certainly not the semantic equivalent of the far more loaded term ‘tranny’. The latter is a transphobic slur which is widely used to oppress people who identify as trans*. In response:

1. No one cares that you don’t like the word ‘cis’. It is not an insult. If you assume something to be an insult simply because of its phonemes, you should not be allowed to write. You know what else sounds like ‘syph’? Cif, where the article is published online.

2. If you know something is a “wrong word”, don’t use it.

3. This whole piece hinges on cis feminists being targeted by trans* people. However much we like to say that insults and slurs are equally abhorrent either side of the fence, let’s not kid ourselves. Even if people had been showering Moore & co. with ‘anti-cis’ language, there is a world of difference between  someone reacting out of anger in the face of oppression, and someone shouting down from a position of power. This is what Burchill is doing. However much she might protest about her working-class upbringing, she is blessed with cis privilege and the privilege of having a national newspaper as the platform for her opinions. Not that she will admit it:

We are damned if we are going to be accused of being privileged by a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs.

All this pales in the face of the “they’re lucky I’m not calling them..” comment. I can’t quite put into words the arrogance and contempt behind the claim that a group of people who are oppressed should consider themselves fortunate because they are not being oppressed further. Except they are, because Burchill, by implication, is calling them exactly that – and repeats the slurs later on.

As though this diatribe weren’t dripping with enough bile, Burchill ends with a threat:

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 don’t know what’s worse about this. The bigotry, the hate speech, the fact that it was allowed to be published, or the sheer arrogance of thinking she dare speak on behalf of what she calls “natural-born women”. Not in my name, Burchill.

Note: I initially wrote that Burchill’s piece was published in the Guardian. In fact, it was published in the Observer; despite being displayed on the same website in the Comment is free section, it is the Observer editors who are responsible for its publication. I have rectified this above.

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11 thoughts on “‘Us lowly natural-born women’: not in my name, Burchill

  1. Excellent article that sorts the situation out exactly.

    People all too ready to call out others for privilege, yet refusing to own their privilege when they too are called out on it. Truly sad, because neither group can say they couldn’t use more allies, since we are dealing with many of the same prejudices from many of the same people.

  2. As a transman, it’s good to hear that there are people out there who see this supposed article as what it is. It’s always so heartwarming to see cisgender folks who respect our cause, especially in the face of such a scum filled article. Thank you for dissecting this media bile more maturely and intelligently than I ever could have done.

  3. Thank you for being an ally. I got down my SOED, which I got before I got internet, and it has cisalpine, cismontane, cislunar, cisatlantic, and cis-trans in chemical isomerism. Cisalpine was the word I had known. With any sympathy at all for us, a person will find the word “cis” inoffensive, and it is easy to explain.

    And- shemales, shims, trannies- I would only find it offensive if I retain my internalised transphobia. I do, I suppose, but am learning not to be triggered by this rubbish.

    Oh, and I found a source in Kilburn of human hair lace-fronted wigs for under £100.

  4. An open letter to Julie Burchill.

    Since your publisher has closed the comments to your bigoted ramblings, I will respond to them here.

    I am afraid you have confused transsexuals (those of us who are type IV or higher on the Benjamin scale) with genderqueers, genderfu–s, crossdressers and drag queens. I can assure you RuPaul and his ilk do NOT speak for us. I defy anyone with your mindset to spend just one day in the private hell many of us live. Then consider that instead of this short field trip, this is our stark reality, day in and out, 24/7, every damned day of our lives.

    You think you made some points in your opinion piece, so allow me to make some comparisons I believe are fair.

    We may not have had a lifetime of PMD (PMS on this side of the pond), but cramps and bloating seem like minor inconveniences when you consider the shame, guilt and self loathing many of us deal with. Sometimes every hour of every day because we’re constantly force fed the drum beat telling us that it’s wrong for us to be who know we really are. For many of us this begins early in our childhood. I don’t imagine many genetic women starting menstruation around age 5.

    Not every ciswoman experiences harassment for who she is. Almost every transwoman however does. It doesn’t stop with mere harassment either. Often it escalates to bullying and sometimes very brutal murder. Look at some of the stories of the victims whose names sadly made it to the TDOR list. If you’re not appalled by many of them you seriously need to have your psych medication levels adjusted.

    As you state, many ciswomen look at the spectre of HRT. Guess what, so are almost all transwomen. Believe it or not for us this is a life saving regimen. Pot, please meet kettle. I’ll allow you the menopause claim, but only if you accept that for us we go through a second puberty, one we should have gone through in our teens.

    Make no mistake, we don’t flinch either. It amazes me that a lot of people admire many of us for our bravery. Fact is that a lot of us are scared to death. There is one thing that the Ivory soap percentage (99 44/100%) of ciswomen have and that’s in the matter of being secure in a self identity that is never questioned. Of never being in danger of being found out by a bigoted public that not only despises us, but openly loathes us. Small wonder many a transwoman who is newly post-op will leave everything behind and move to another town and live a stealth existence where nobody knows who she was.

    If you were to bother to ask any of us, you would be surprised to know how much we are concerned about the same things that the female cis population is. About a misogynous patriarchy in the dying strains of their reign. About being treated a second class person just because of who you are. And we all deal with the all too real possibility of rape regardless if we’re trans or cis. However if a ciswoman is raped and reports the crime to the authorities, the rapist is much more likely to be prosecuted and sentenced than if the victim was a transwoman. Unfortunately this is true for many of the crimes that are committed against us.

    Also most ciswomen don’t have to deal with blatant discrimination in housing, employment, insurance coverage, and health care, at least not to the extent that transwomen do.

    Lastly Julie, I don’t mind anyone holding and expressing an opinion if it is well reasoned and comes from a place of understanding of the facts. It’s not enough that you as an alleged “professional” writer should make the amateur’s mistake of not researching anything, let alone a part of speech, a writer’s tools if you will, you then publish that misunderstanding for all the world to see. This proves to me that you come from a place of not only bigotry but also ignorance. Please do not make the mistake of thinking that these are vile insults as your piece was. Rather they are my observations based on the evidence of your “work”.

    To make matters worse, you weren’t satisfied when you hit bottom. You had to dig yourself a deeper hole. You finished your hit piece with a threat. You said, “Trust me, you ain’t seen nothing yet. You really won’t like us when we’re angry.” So far your publisher The Guardian has received 2213 comments before they were closed. It should come as no surprise to you that your sickening screed has been archived many places. This way even if the paper does decide to remove the piece, this ugly digital tattoo of yours will remain forever and indelibly marked upon the digital landscape. Your paper and the local officials are watching you very closely.

    Common sense would seem to suggest you don’t whack a beehive with a stick if you don’t like getting stung. The hackneyed phrase, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” does not apply only to ciswomen. We’re angry. Really angry. How do you like us now?

  5. Pingback: Julie Burchill should cut it out: update | Cis white female

  6. Pingback: Suzanne Moore « Clare Flourish

    • Flippantly, yes. My point was that a professional writer shouldn’t be using that kind of argument (if you can call it that) because it’s lazy and ill-informed – and, well, not an argument. Would you care to expand though?

  7. Pingback: Beckie Smith

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