So I logged into twitter and saw this:
Allow me to provide more context than anyone wants about the latest trans vs terf twitter storm.
The weekend, the Observer published a letter, where terfs complained that universities no longer invite them to speak. One section of it complained that Julie Bindel is no longer given a university platform to advocate for conversion therapy for trans people. She is forced to constrain her remarks to national newspapers, instead of taking her case directly to trans young people.
If the phrase, ‘conversion therapy’ seems familiar, that’s because it came up in Leelah Alcorn‘s suicide. Conversion therapy doesn’t turn trans people cis any more than it could make a person gay or straight or left-handed or blonde. It wouldn’t have any effect at all, if it weren’t devastating for people. Leelah specifically cited it in her suicide note. Terfs such as Bindel think it should be absolutely the only option for trans people. Alas, given her national platform, she has advocated this as public policy and nearly scuppered the law that gives legal recognition to trans people in the UK. This is not a harmless disagreement or just an ideological row. Terfs have been much more effective at causing material harm to large numbers of trans people than right wing Christians have been. Normally, this is framed as a long running any annoying internet argument between trans women and some feminists, but in fact, it was because of successful organising by terfs that, until recently, all trans people in the US had to pay out of pocket for trans-related medical care. They got it removed from medicaid, which had the knock-on effect of also dropping it from private insurance. Bindel has campaigned for this to also be the case in the UK. In response, the NUS has a policy of not inviting her to speak at student unions (so-called ‘no-platforming’). She describes this as a McCarthy-esque limitation of freedom of speech – to not be given a university platform to advocate for something that would surely mean the deaths of many trans people. (Bindel says she doesn’t want trans people to die, but not all Terfs agree.)
So the letter in the Observer says it’s undemocratic not to give a platform for a relatively privileged group of people to call for harm of less privileged people. Peter Tachell, an often heroic campaigner for LGBT-rights, is a free speech fundamentalist and signed the letter. Possibly he was not entirely aware of the context. Or maybe he is – I seem to him recall him defending hate speech that was directed at him personally. Nonetheless, I think it’s a stretch to say that demanding an apology from a political candidate who questions whether or not trans people should have the right to access public toilets (Rupert Reed) is an attack on his free speech. Indeed, normally free speech involves a lot of back and forth and often this includes asking politicians to apologise. (Which he did and the Green party has reaffirmed that their platform is welcoming to trans people, so I would tend to see this as having had a positive outcome.) Indeed, I think the entire letter is disingenuous and I’m disappointed to see Tatchell signed it.
As I said in an earlier blog post, I tweeted at him about it, as did loads of other people. For the record, I’m sorry for being part of such a huge mass of people and for the snarky tone that I took. I’ve been the topic of a much smaller twitter pile-on and did not enjoy it. Some of the posts directed at him were much more hostile than mine. The included image above contains a tweet which reads: ‘I’d like to tweet about your murder you fucking parasite’
While this stops short of an actual death threat, it does cross a line. I’m not going to condemn or excuse the person who sent it (nor is it my intent to condescend to them like the concerned person who photographed the tweet). I will say that a lot of trans people are vulnerable. Many come from homes that do not support us. If we run into financial difficulty, poorly-thought-out ‘protections’ of our privacy can make it extremely difficult to access benefits. Many trans people experience tremendous amounts of transphobia from the family, their community and their work environment. A very large percentage of trans women lose their jobs on coming out and many of them face systemic discrimination which makes it difficult to get a new job. I’m sharing this not to assign any angry a tweeter a mantle of victimhood, just to note that some trans people are very badly stressed by circumstances that are not their fault and are due to them being trans. Many are not, but most trans people have dealt with very serious transphobia for at least part of their lives.
Meanwhile, Peter Tachell, for whom I have quite a lot of respect, has managed to make a career as a campaigner. He has a foundation. He can work full time at addressing injustices, including ones that don’t effect him personally. He has taken on trans rights recently because he thinks its the right thing to do. I see this as noble and note that his LGB campaigning has caused him quite a lot of personal hardship and even physical injury. However, his support for trans rights is somewhat undermined by his signing of this letter. He has a strong identity as a champion of trans rights and some of the funds that he collects to support his work are from trans people and allies who want to help him work on this cause. If he is getting identity and funds based on work for other people, but then suddenly sides with those who want us to die, you can see where the term ‘parasite’ might come from. And indeed, how a stressed person in a vulnerable community could easily get angry enough to tweet that.
But who is this person who is so concerned about the orignal tweeter that they chose to photograph the tweet? Indeed, before we get to that: posting images to things like twitter is not only a huge waste of bandwidth, but is a major accessibility problem for people who rely on screen readers, such as blind people. If you’re going to use a screen cap, please provide a transcript. If that’s too long for twitter, you’re on the wrong platform!
The photographer, Beatrix Campbell is, of course, the person who wrote the letter in the Observer, complaining that universities don’t like to issue paid speaking invitations to those who actively wish harm to some of their less empowered students. She also is, unsurprisingly, a terf, who has previously written about Julie Bindel being no-platformed. How does she describe her ideological foes who don’t want their student fees to go towards people who would deny them medical treatment? ‘Transgender people who used to live as men and now live as women’, she wrote, also in the Guardian. (For people claiming to be silenced, they do seem to get rather a lot of space in influential national newspapers.) It should be very clear that this formulation is calling trans women’s womanhood into question. She complains in the column that she doesn’t like being called a transphobe. I think there might be an easy solution for that, which is to stop using formulations like that one. Indeed, this formulation would deeply problematic if applied to trans women in their 30’s, 40’s and so on. But as most undergraduates do tend to be young, it’s especially disingenuous. Somebody who has come out in their teens or early 20’s to start living as a woman probably has not actually lived ‘as a man’ in any meaningful sense or for any length of time. Which is neither here nor there, as you don’t need to have lived as any gender to be against giving paid speaking engagements to somebody who wants to deny you needed medical care!
So Ms Campbell, who wants to gently remind everyone that trans people are not always and forever their own gender, is very deeply concerned about the well-being of this angry tweeter. Not so concerned that she wouldn’t try to keep her out of ‘women only spaces’, like public toilets, or to reach out to her directly, but I’m sure her concern is entirely sincere. She’s also very concerned for her new bestie, Peter Tatchell, who was the target of this wish for death. Peter was touched enough by all this concern that he re-tweeted it.
Meanwhile, Tatchell is fairly angry about all the abuse he’s getting and is posting inadvisably to Twitter about all the very hard work he’s done for trans people (which is true, he has done) and how under appreciated he feels (this is the less advisable part) and why can’t we be nicer to our allies even when they collaborate with people who are out to harm us?
And… that’s it.
This is twitter. Twitter is hurt, angry people lashing out. People with OBEs and national newspaper columns whining about being silenced. People who should know better crying they aren’t beloved enough and should be allowed to speak over those for whom they’re meant to be working for and how their free speech is violated when they can’t.
Everyone is angry. Everyone is hurt. Everyone feels like they’re right. Everyone feels like their feelings are the most important thing going on here. Everybody is lashing out. And this is today on twitter. And yesterday on twitter. And tomorrow on twitter. And every day on twitter. I just can’t take it any more. I’m done.
What twitter is good for: if a corporation does something stupid and embarrassing, you can force them to apologise and stop doing the thing that was probably not making them any money anyway.
What twitter is good for: multiplying anger and hurt feelings until they risk turning into a black hole of awful.
What twitter is shit at: changing anyone’s mind about anything, getting corporations to stop doing things that are unethical but profitable, getting people to behave better, being a thing I want to spend any more time with.
I’ll be on Diaspora, where we can have longer posts, longer comments, visible threads and hopefully a lot more light and a lot less heat.
And I’ll be at my local. Talking to people I know, to their face, taking a walk when I feel really angry and trying to avoid being murderously angry or petulant as fuck.