Thursday, January 10, 2013

Suzanne Moore

Suzanne Moore said something recently which made a lot of people angry:
"the desired body for women is that of "a Brazilian transsexual"

She called it a throwaway comment, which no doubt made people more angry.  Not surprising, it's an exoticising, reductionist statement which sexualises trans (women's) bodies.  It's thoughtless and in a climate where trans people are regularly and routinely discriminated against, it is not helpful.

Then she wrote this article that a lot of people took as a fake apology/non existent apology, which also made people angry:  I don't care if you were born a woman or became one.

Now, I read this article this morning and tweeted that "I like this article. Flippant comments aside, I appreciate her stance".  This wasn't well explained by me and is not descriptive of all my thoughts around the article.  As I don't think Twitter is the place to have in depth conversations I said I would blog about it.  So here we go.

I am not writing this to counter or reinforce any particular person's viewpoint or comments.  These thoughts are my own, as I understand them.

Part of the reason I don't view this article as an apology, is because she doesn't appear to want to apologise, or pretend to apologise.  So I don't understand why people are focusing on that.  The article starts off by talking about Bowie, presumably prompted by his recent single, so I don't think she ever wanted it to be an apology.  By all means, be pissed off by the fact she hasn't apologised but I don't think it makes sense to view it in terms of a (non) apology.

There are a lot of things I dislike about her article, but there are some things I do like.

I do not like (quotes from the article in bold, my comments are below each quote):

I was a waitress and I served them (trans people) breakfast at 5am and they were so kind to me. Many had had botched surgery in Morocco and their lives were more than difficult.
I think she's put this in to show she respects and likes trans people, and that she gets on with trans people.  The problem is that meeting, getting on with and feeling sympathy for a small group of trans people is largely irrelevant.  It's possible to get on with people and still consider them second class in some way.  The comments about surgery are a bit odd - this isn't really important to the article at all.  I expect that she's included it as it's how she relates to trans people - through their surgery - which is offensive.

Mostly this (transitioning) seemed to be an obsession with secondary sexual characteristics: peeing sitting down if they had been a man, wearing horrible lumberjack shirts and refusing to wash up if they had been a woman.
Ugh.  This is reductionist, dismissive and horrible.  It illustrates quite clearly that she doesn't care about trans people experiences and is willing to use them to back up narrow minded prejudices.  if what she states is the case, there are any number of reasons why trans people might choose to fulfil gendered behaviours - even me, with my limited understanding, knows that one option is that 'doctors*' insisted that their trans patients had to act in set gendered ways in order to be approved for surgery.  Another reason might be because they just wanted to - and there is nothing wrong with that.

However I mostly think she's talking bollocks and that her observations are cherry picked and made up to support her own view.

*I use the term doctor loosely here, because anyone acting like that clearly doesn't have the health of their patient in mind, which I think should be a requisite for a doctor. 

The radical fluidity of gender vaporised.
Errr, trans people getting surgery does not equate to gender fludity being vaporised.  I'd argue that getting surgery and living as your self identified gender is actually pretty fucking radical, considering the shit that trans people put up with (including the stupid comments in this article).  But then again as a cis person I am not the right person to lecture about trans experience (it would be nice if Moore also understood this).

Some trans people appeared to reinforce every gender stereotype going
And?  I don't see the problem here.  A few things -
I wonder is Moore would criticise cis people for fulfilling gender stereotypes.
This opinion is probably as seen through Moore's own eyes, not seen through trans people eyes.
If this highly subjective statement is indeed true, and if that is indeed a problem, 'some' does not invalidate 'all'.

I speak as a white woman of privilege, though I was indeed born in the wrong body. It should have been Gisele Bündchen's.
So here Moore is mocking and invalidating trans people's experience and feelings.  I am willing to accept that she perhaps wasn't intending to do this, but was intending to make a joke.

There's one more bit I take issue with, but I'll deal with that at the end as it will only make sense in view of the rest of the article.

Things I do agree with, in part (quotes from the article in bold, my comments are below each quote):

For this I have been attacked on Twitter for "transphobia". I made it worse – well why not? – by saying that I don't like the word. I don't think it adds to our understanding of the complex webs of hatred it invokes, but instead closes down discussion.
First off, I think that the word transphobia is highly highly useful, relevant and absolutely needed.  For without it it becomes much much harder to identify, discuss and fight against discrimination against trans people.  So I disagree with her when she says it doesn't add to the discussion.  I think it's quite disingenuous of her to say otherwise.

But, I do think that sometimes some people attack other for being transphobic and use that to shut down discussion.  This is different to what Moore is saying, but on first read of the article that's how I took it.  This isn't the fault of the word 'transphobic'.  It's down to people.  Blaming it on the word itself is wrong.

I absolutely understand why trans people wouldn't want to engage in education and discussion on every single issue of transphobia, but my feeling is that it is allies who put forth accusations of transphobia and then refuse to discuss it.  Sometimes I think people get accused of transphobia without the accuser considering the context in which things were said.   There seems to be a moral high ground in some social justice circles whereby if you accuse someone of being discriminatory you are automatically right and so don't have to engage with them further at all.  Well, sometimes people misunderstand other things and sometimes people express themselves badly and I don't think we should hang people out to dry because they've said a couple of stupid things.

I don't have evidence for this - it's just my feelings about twitter discussions (where I do a lot of my reading nowadays) and I am perfectly aware that my feelings are just as subjective and likely to be ill informed as Moore's statements above.  But all these feelings informed my reading of Moore's article so when I got to the bit in bold above, I went, hmm, she's right.  Except as I said in the second paragraph of this point, my reading of her words is different to what she said.

Intersectionality is good in theory, though in practice, it means that no one can speak for anyone else. It is the dead-end where much queer politics, feminist politics and identity politics ends up. In its own rectum. It refuses to engage with many other political discourses and becomes the old hierarchy of oppression.
I do think she has a point here, especially about the heirarchy of oppression.  I know that's not how intersectionality is supposed to work, but in practice that is sometimes what happens.  Where do you go with creating a cohesive, campaigning movement when you have a lot of disparate interests and identities?  Sometimes you end up with campaigners shouting down those not as enlightened as they are and refusing to engage, in a similar manner to both.  Again, this is an issue more with people than with the theory itself, I think.   I would be interested to hear Moore's reasons as to why the theory itself is fundamentally unsound.

Then again, I absolutely believe that feminism must take into account racism, ableism, ageisim, homophobia, biphobia and so on.  So I think this means I am stuck in an ideological rut, unsure how to reconcile the two views I have.

It makes me ill that meritocracy is the ruling-class myth, that policy is not about economics but rancid ideology.  
So here I think she's saying she's less traditional feminist and more economist (with a feminist leaning).
Well I can't argue with that.

I wanted to say again that feminism is not a white, middle-class concern: look at Sierra Leone, Egypt, India.
Correct.  But unless you decide she is not primarily a feminist, this conflicts with her earlier comments about intersectionality.  It does fit with the idea that she's more marxist economist (or perhaps Lockian?  Is it Locke who developed the idea of the social contract?  No matter, for the next couple of points let's pretend I'm right in calling her a Marxist economist).

When I say "women", I don't much care if you were born or became one. I am with RuPaul: "Honey, we are born naked, the rest is drag." What I do care about is something that is deeply old-fashioned: solidarity. I may not be your colour or your culture, or share your sexual preferences, but open your eyes to what we need to do. This is not some glitch in the uber-sexual matrix; this government makes Thatcher look like Shirley Williams. The boot is in your face if you are not one of them.
Correct.  See my comments above about her being more of a Marxist economist than a feminist.

So to be told that I hate transgender people feels a little ... irrelevant. Other people's genital arrangements are less interesting to me than the breakdown of the social contract. I am asking for anger and for alliances. Less divide and rule.
Yes, well, the problem with this is that when you use the word irrelevant it gets up people's noses.  People start thinking you find them irrelevant.

As for the comment about genital arrangements, well, trans people are far more than their genitals, and if Moore had done any research or put any thought into trans people's lives she'd have realised this.  Again, she's reducing trans people to their genitals.

Regarding the comments about the social contract, I refer you back to my Marxist economist comments.  If you do not take an economic viewpoint of the problems of society you will not agree with her.  One of the many criticism of Marxism is that it does nothing to help women.

On the other hand, she is quite keen on the social contract.  Under the social contract government has a responsibility to care for it's citizens.  In return citizens pay taxes and agree not to riot.  Now under this concept, government should care for everybody and protect them from harm.  That includes it's trans citizens.  And come to think of it, under the social contract government *must* understand intersectionality or it cannot fully protect everyone.  Hmm, I'd not thought of that before.

Lastly, I wrote this bit at the start of the post but don't know where to fit it.  So it gets bunged on the end.

Some people are offensive and will always be offensive - I don't know that I expect all of them to apologise, get over it, get better. I find the manner in which twitter continuously asks people for apologies and berates people for any mistake made quite venomous.  I don't think it works.  I don't find it agreeable.

I now think this post may be a bit of a mess.


César M said...


César M said...
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