On the current unpleasantness

I’ve had an exchange of letters with a prominent liberal journalist who thinks that the trans community should enter dialogue with Julie Bindel rather than engage in tactics which alienate her further. I would love to know whether he has ever said to her that maybe she should try not to be deliberately offensive – but I guess that members of the serious commentariat do not criticize each other like that. ( I am of course not a proper part of the commentariat because you have to be cis for that…)

So, anyway, I wrote him this letter.

Of course I respect your position, but I’d like to trespass on your time a little further to explain mine some more.

Like a number of other trans people, I have been having this particular argument for the last thirty years – I reviewed Janice Raymond’s book The Transsexual Empire back when it first came out in 1979. In that time, I have lived the debate in my personal life – I have been verbally assaulted, excluded from women-only space to which I had been invited by friends and lovers, watched my women lovers be abused and threatened. Nonetheless, I have become someone regarded by a lot of feminists as a feminist scholar of worth. I have served as Deputy Chair of Liberty and was one of the founders of Feminists against Censorship.

I have tried to open personal discussion with Julie Bindel and she has always refused on the grounds that there is no talking to any of us. She holds all of us accountable for anything any trans person says or does. At the same time, she entirely erases our experience – she tends by the way to entirely erase the existence of trans men by talking as if they were not part of the conversation.

I specifically made to her the point that some of us have been engaging with her particular feminist critique of trans for almost as long as some of the community have been alive and she simply refused to discuss the issue. When Sarah Brown pointed out to her that her advocacy of ‘talking cures’ for trans was a mealy-mouthed advocacy of reparative therapy, Julie Bindel’s response was to threaten to sue her for libel – not much respect for free speech there.

Christine Burns engaged in an extended dialogue and has now stated that she regards it as having been an utter waste of time in which Julie Bindel acted in less than perfect faith.

In a sense, it does not matter whether she is personally bigoted or cruel – the consequences of her politics, which are not hers alone and have a long history, have produced bigotry and cruelty on a regular basis.

As to the specific issue of her freedom of speech, there have been three trans demonstrations involving her. When she spoke against us at the BBC radio programme Hecklers, we went along and asked questions from the floor with most of which she refused to engage. People afterwards tried to interact with her in a friendly and non-confrontational manner; things she has subsequently written indicate that they wasted their time.

The demonstration at the Stonewall Awards was not against Julie as such, but against Stonewall primarily for consistently refusing to engage with the issues of the trans community, and most especially with that part of the community which identifies as lesbian or gay – a significant part these days. In that context, their considering honouring a well-known transphobe was salt in the wound – but it was a demonstration against Stonewall, not against Julie Bindel, as all film and other documentation will show.

The same applies to Friday night’s demonstration – it was against QQT for giving a platform to a transphobe in a space that we regard as one of the few venues which is trans-friendly. We might have been placated had QQT allowed us to make a statement or asked one of us onto the platform, but this was not the case.

In the end, what you are arguing is that we are making a good argument in the wrong tone of voice. As I am sure you are aware, this is a standard trope of arguments about prejudice and is a classic derailment technique.

Seventy trans people THAT WE KNOW OF were murdered last year world wide; two of them, in London and Brighton, were people that were part of our extended community. Andrea Waddell was a college chum of friends of mine and Destiny was a friend of my own ex-flat-mate. We have reason to be angry and telling us not to be is telling vulnerable people to shut up.

I know you think of yourself as a defender of trans rights, but I would honestly suggest to you that one of the best ways you can do this is to listen to what we are saying rather than telling us what we ought to say.

He really is a cisplaining AllyFail twit, I fear.


About rozkaveney

Middleaged, trans, novelist, poet, activist
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20 Responses to On the current unpleasantness

  1. bcholmes says:



  2. If he doesn’t wise up after that letter, I’m afraid he’s a lost cause.

    In a sense, it does not matter whether she is personally bigoted or cruel – the consequences of her politics, which are not hers alone and have a long history, have produced bigotry and cruelty on a regular basis.

    This paragraph, in particular, struck me as the essence of it all.

  3. jessie_c says:

    I wasn’t aware that it was possible to alienate Bindel any farther. I had thought that calling for the total eradication of a population through psudo-psychiatric “talking cures” and characterising the only effective treatment for us as “mutilation” was already as alien as one could get.

    But what do I know, I’m not a cis journalist.

  4. vschanoes says:

    Damn good letter, though. Shame it had to be written.

  5. cmcmck says:

    I suspect the opposite of his view is now true (and like you, I’ve been fighting the fight for what now feels like centuries but is probably only decades). No, Roz’s ‘liberal’ journalistic cis friend- Julie Bindel now needs to be called out on every coneivable occasion, challenged at every hand’s turn and I’ve a feeling that the next generation who are now taking the front of stage are going to be less pleasant about it than we have been.

    The time for ‘talking nicely’ is past, sadly.

    Good for them! and great letter, Roz.

  6. annafdd says:

    You know, this is the first time somebody has spelled out to me what the tone argument was. I sort of knew, but you put it in words for the first time.

  7. jasonelvis says:

    Excellent letter Roz.

  8. gonzo21 says:

    Yes, you have written several truly genius letters, but that is one of your best.

    As somebody says above, if he doesn’t wise up after reading this, then lost cause.

  9. re_silvera says:

    Excellent letter. We shouldn’t have to appease bigots! What’s next, sitting down with Nick Griffin and asking him to please be nice to people of color?

  10. stellanova says:

    I think I know what journalist you’re refering to, and if I’m right I was also disappointed when he tweeted in defence of Bindel. Did you get a reply to this letter?

    • rozkaveney says:

      Not really, he just reiterated his view that free speech is utterly paramount and no platform is a breach of free speech. He did not address any of the more nuancing issues I raised – the point is that for such people I and mine are expendable beside the great love-feast of the commentariat.

      • Anonymous says:

        “Free speech”

        She may, indeed should, have “free” speech. But for the free contention of ideas to work in his somewhat Athenean ideal, there should be equal access to the platform where they are procalimed. This is his biggest failing, he does not see that she is more “free” than we are because we are denied that equal platform.


    • Anonymous says:

      I hope it’s not Johann Hari, that would come as a considerable disappointment.

      • rozkaveney says:

        Well, I guess your life sucks right now…

      • Anonymous says:

        If the liberal journalist in question is a certain podgy, depressive homosexual, might it not hit closer to home to point out that Bindel is of the class of person who thinks that all gay men are potential rapists with barely latent paedophile tendencies. (Unfortunately I don’t have chapter and verse for all this otherwise I would post it along to him). Even gay men who aren’t prepared to give a thought to the concerns of transsexuals should be aware that Julie Bindel has no common cause with gay life in even the broadest accepted terms. That her ultra-puritan attitudes to sex place her more within the “Daily Mail” camp – and the “Daily Mail” of the late 1980s at that.

        – matthew davis

      • rozkaveney says:

        Ah, but I am sure that she is nice to him personally. You just have to look at the creepy on-line flirtation between JB and Paul Burston in some of the comments to his Facebook posts to understand how that works.

        What I can’t work out from this whole ‘JB is my friend and utterly charming’ meme is whether she a) doesn’t believe a word of her anti-gay male stuff and is just doing it for effect or b) is a sociopath who plays along with gay men as their slightly nutso rad fem mate until THE DAY comes and she will machine gun the lot of them with a happy wave. I am sure that there are other less defamatory interpretations and, for the sake of my bank account, I am sure that those less defamatory interpretations are correct, even though I do not know what they are.

      • jessie_c says:

        From people I’ve spoken to who have spoken to her, I’m inclined to the notion that she’s a sociopath who plays along with whomever she’s speaking to until THE DAY comes and she will machine gun the lot of them with a happy wave.

        The world consists of two parts: 1)Julie Bindel 2) everything else, and the important part is Julie.

      • Anonymous says:

        Sigh. Yea, that sucks. I imagined he’d be more able than most to see that the access issue means that one party is more free than the other. But if he cannot see that then, cisplaining allyfail indeed.

  11. auntysarah says:

    This is the second time I’ve seen “cisplaining” on my f-list in a few minutes. This word is destined to be great!

  12. earth_prime says:

    I agree, one of your best letters eva.

    I feel that Bindel’s lost in the Court of Public Opinion already… there’s a noticeable ripple effect through Twitter, Facebook and their ilk, every time she says something stupid and objectionable.

    It’s not down to any deep and pervasive understanding of trans-issues across internetland, sadly. Just that she comes across as such a bilious and illiberal twit, and it gets peoples backs up.

    A lot of good winning in the Court of Public Opinion does though, if she continues to breathe the oxygen of publicity.

    A real “win” wouldn’t be the Guardian dropping her, it would be a series of almost ineluctable climb downs and polite capitulations on her part. FB petitions and the like don’t work with Bindel, Nick Cohen and other cheerleaders for contrarian squee. Knowing they have really, really upset people makes them even more determined to continue thinking the unthinkable, and talking crap.

    (Contrarian squee seems to be very much flavour of the epoch at the Guardian since the move to Kings Cross, and the strategy being 24 hour news and provocative commentariat content to drive webhits… I really don’t get the anti-climate change science line at the moment…

    Maybe they think eye-catching, wild editorial mood swings are what drives circulation? It certainly fills space in the paper version.

    That exchange between Bindel and Burchill was the nadir of the Guardian’s journalistic decline. It was also why I finally gave up buying the paper edition and took up snaffling it from train seats).

    The reasoned, polite but thorough approach you take is the way to go. Thank goodness you have the patience, Roz. I just want to chuck several glasses of wine at her, but all that would result in is a restraining order and a waste of good claret.

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