julie burchill transphobia

Last Sunday Julie Burchill had a thoroughly offensive and transphobic article published in the online edition of The Observer. There's a freezepage of her diatribe here, created both in case it was changed or taken down (it was removed from the website on Monday), and to keep traffic away from the site.

Like many others I wrote to the readers' editor. The text of that email is below:

Dear Sir

I  wish to complain about the article 'Transsexuals should cut it out' by Julie Burchill, published this morning (Sunday 13 January 2013) in "Comment is free" (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/13/julie-burchill-suzanne-moore-transsexuals).
The article consists of obviously abusive and prejudiced language. Trans-women are referred to as: "a bunch of dicks in chicks' clothing", "women – real and imagined" (my bold), "screaming mimis", "trannies", "shemales", and "shims". This is not just carelessness or insensitivity, these words and phrases appear chosen specifically for their offensiveness and capacity to hurt.

The comments below the article bear out that this is the interpretation most readers have placed on it.

Nor do longer extracts cast the article in a more generous light. I have chosen four examples:

1. "...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."

Aside from being an offensive comparison, suggesting that trans-people are somehow pretending or play-acting their gender identity, it simply makes no sense. If Burchill were talking about a group of people with literacy problems it might be defensible, here it is just inflammatory rhetoric, claiming a parallel between transgender complaints and racism.

2. "...just because she [Julie Bindel] refuses to accept that their relationship with their phantom limb is the most pressing problem that women – real and imagined – are facing right now."
It is not clear quite what 'phantom limb' Burchill thinks she is referring to here (though one would assume she means genitals), but the dismissive and insulting tone is clear. What is much more clear is that she choses to misrepresent trans-women as ignorant or uncaring of other issues faced by women.

3. "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."

Here again are insensitive and offensive terms, "having one's nuts taken off", and "screaming mimis", and again a misrepresentation of trans-women. Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of transgender individuals will know that one's gender identity has nothing to do with time spent in academia. To suggest otherwise is to belittle the very real resistance met every day by transgender individuals.

It is worth noting that transgender people face a lot of violence, not to mention thoughts of suicide, self-harm, and actual suicide attempts (http://www.glaad.org/transgender).

4. "(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.)"
I have already noted the gratuitous offence of the terms "shemale" and "shim". In this parenthetical attack, however, Burchill also displays either a failure of basic research or a deliberate misunderstanding. Less than five minutes research would have told her that "cisgender" simply refers to an identity where "an individual's self-perception of their gender matches their sex" (see Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cisgender).

Bearing the above in mind, Julie Burchill would seem to be in breach of The Guardian's Editorial Code (http://www.guardian.co.uk/info/guardian-editorial-code), specifically the two following points:

"Language Respect for the reader demands that we should not casually use words that are likely to offend."

"Appendix 3.1 Press Complaints Commission Code of Practice

12 Discrimination
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or perforative references to an individual's race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability."

She would also appear to violate point 5 of The Guardian's Community Standards (http://www.guardian.co.uk/community-standards):

"5. We will not tolerate racism, sexism, homophobia or other forms of hate-speech, or contributions that could be interpreted as such. We recognise the difference between criticising a particular government, organisation, community or belief and attacking people on the basis of their race, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age."

Finally, I do not know whether Ms Burchill is a member of the NUJ, but point 9 of their code of conduct (http://www.nuj.org.uk/files/NUJ_Code_of_Conduct.pdf) says the following:

"NUJ Code of Conduct

A Journalist:
9 Produces no material likely to lead to hatred or discrimination on the grounds of a person's age, gender, race, colour, creed, legal status, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation."

It is clear from this, that in terms of simple respect and decency to others, and of basic journalistic standards, that Julie Burchill has written a disgracefully obnoxious piece that is likely to result in very real hurt (and potentially, genuine harm) to a large group of people, including some who are extremely vulnerable.

Matt Dalby

It should be noted I have been told that 'trans women'/'trans men' is a preferable usage to 'trans-women'/trans-men', but thought it better not to change anything.

As noted above, The Observer removed the article. That seems intellectually dishonest, better perhaps to leave the piece in place, prominently linking one or more commissioned articles from trans writers addressing or rebutting Burchill's piece.

Several good pieces were written on the day. This open letter from Juliet Jacques is a good example. I may post other links at a later date.


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