Saturday 19 January 2013

Feminist transvestites.

I spent much of last week arguing on Twitter and in online comment arenas (blogs, CiF). Most readers will probably know what that was about, but for those that don't...

It all arose from a casual (and unnecessary) jibe by Suzanne Moore (about Brazilian trans women), which quickly progressed (after Moore was challenged and took umbrage) to direct insults (from both sides), then out-and-out hate speech (from Julie Burchill in The Observer, prompting 2000+ complaints), followed by a ridiculous non-argument about "press freedom" (after Burchill's article was taken down again) – and the affair continues to rumble on.

I'm not going to link to any of that here. You can easily find it for yourself. Instead, I want to highlight a related article in The Guardian: ‘Why I'm trans … and a feminist’. The sub-headline reads: “In the light of this week's row between two prominent feminists and the trans community, we asked four trans writers to reflect on what feminism means to them”. This “trans-feminist panel” comprised Paris Lees, Jane Fae, CL Minou, and Stuart Crawford. The first three I know as prominent trans activists, but Stuart Crawford I didn't. He starts:

I'm a transvestite, in that I often wear what are generally deemed women's clothes. I don't set out to "pass" as a woman; it's just that most people tend to assume that I am one and I'm disinclined to correct them. While often reluctant to describe myself as such, I consider myself to be a feminist.

Stuart makes a lot of good points in his short piece – such as “There's not much that draws out violence like causing people to question their own sexuality. Misogyny, transphobia, homophobia: these things are interwoven.” and “Trans people have unique perspectives on sex and gender, and to exclude our voices from the discussion is to do feminism a disservice.” – as you can read for yourself. But it's the first three words that got me.

A lot of people are erased from these debates – trans men in particular – but transvestites (my own constituency) generally aren't even engaged. So it's very refreshing to see a fellow-traveller with the desire to talk seriously about feminism and being given the media space in which to do so.

Thanks, Stuart. And to The Guardian as well – this is the right way; please keep it up.


  1. Yes, I agree. Right on, Stuart; right on, Guardian.

    I am interested to see Stuart using the term 'transvestite' rather than 'crossdresser'. Doubtless there has been lots of discussion about the terms. Don't trans commentators love debating the rights and wrongs of vocabulary?

    On the initial furore, I am totally on the side of Suzanne Moore. Transsexuals should not be exempt from the kind of unmalicious mild satire that is ubiquitous these days. The attack on her twitter account showed an appalling lack of respect for free speech. xx

  2. Hi again Deborah :)

    On words: “transvestite” is mostly used in the UK (we don't really have a problem with it); “crossdresser” seems to be preferred in the US. I use both terms, and other ones as well – as long as I'm able to define them for myself. It's when other people try to tell you what they mean that arguments (aka “label debates”) arise.

    On Suzanne Moore etc: I didn't see it as “unmalicious mild satire”, rather as an unnecessary and misplaced jibe with a pernicious subtext. That people read the subtext correctly was shown by how Moore responded to criticism. I don't see what free speech has to do with it either. She was "free" to say what she did, and people were free to criticize her for it. Yes, things quickly got, let's say, out of hand, but anyway... I don't want to conduct this argument on here. Instead, I'll just offer a link to a piece by another Guardian commentator, Ally Fogg: ‘After all that, what was the Moore – Burchill saga really all about?’. The concluding paragraph sums it up for me.

  3. Hi again J,

    Thanks for the link. I disagree with Fogg saying that writers aren't entitled to respond 'you shouldn't be offended by that'. It is dangerous to freedom if certain groups can arbitrate what is offensive and what not, with no challenge allowed. I think people should be free to criticise, and people should be free to criticise the critics. It was the Twitter attack that showed lack of respect for two-way debate. It is dangerous to freedom if certain groups can arbitrate what is offensive and what not, with no challenge allowed.

    But I'm not asking you to get back into the debate again. You've probably had sufficient of it by now.

    Feel free to link to Deborah Descends should you so wish. xx

  4. Hi Deborah and thanks :)

    Personally, I think people are perfectly entitled to define what is offensive to them and what is not. Free speech means other people are free to say it anyway. And newspapers are free to publish and un-publish as they see fit. And people are free to criticize them for it. All within the law of course.

    Regarding Julie Burchill's actual "freedom of speech", there is this post of 22nd January: ‘Julie Burchill: What is behind her supporters’ talk of the ‘right to offend’ ?’.

  5. i type crossdresser, more than transvestite as crossdresser is easier for me to type.
    i like the word 'transvestite' more though, has it more grandeur, more glamour about it.
    i imagine it being said in deep slow low throaty vois, 'trransszvestiTe'

  6. I can't stand Julie Burchill. She's like a little girl who is constantly screaming and being naughty just to grab attention. People like her thrive on causing offence. They are best ignored. What does it reveal about liberals like The Guardian that they lap up such people? xx