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Posted by on Jan 13, 2013 in Culture, Debate, In the news | 25 comments

Julie Burchill loses it on transsexuals

Over at the Comment is Free site, which has a huge audience because of its connection with mainstream newspapers, Julie Burchill has a piece in which she defends her friend Suzanne Moore from transsexual activists on Twitter. If we take Burchill at face value, Moore was driven off Twitter after being ferociously dogpiled for making a clumsy, snide reference to transsexuals. This appeared in an essay published in a recent anthology. (The essay has also appeared online, published by The New Statesman, presumably to promote the anthology. Check it out for yourself.)

All this raises issues about the legitimacy of dogpiling tactics, when legitimate activism turns into obsessive surveillance, witch hunting, and bullying, etc. If I knew the full facts of what happened here, perhaps I’d even side to an extent with Moore. From what I know, I have some sympathy.

It seems that Moore’s original remark was far from exemplary, but you can judge for yourself. To me, it appears to show a callous, superior, disdainful attitude toward male-to-female transsexuals, but that’s possibly open to debate. In any event, there’s an argument to be made as to whether the response to Moore was in the appropriate place, proportionate to the offence, etc., etc. Perhaps the response went too far in going after the writer in such a personal way. Perhaps, in all the circumstances, this was a bullying level of escalation.

Even if that is so, however, Burchill goes far beyond thoughtful argument about such issues, or even angry argument in support of her acknowledged friend. She engages gratuitously in what looks like raw, hateful, cruel transphobia. She appears to go out of her way to hurt and provoke (and to whip up hostility against) male-to-female transsexuals in general, based on their characteristics as transsexuals rather than anything else. She does not merely criticise, even in forthright or angry terms, the tactics of particular activists or activist groups. Again and again, she does this kind of thing: “a bunch of dicks in chicks’ clothing”; “their relationship with their phantom limb”; “the trannies. (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.)”; “To have your cock cut off and then plead special privileges as women”; “Shims, shemales, whatever you’re calling yourselves these days”.

To say this least, this is bad form. We can argue with each other about these sensitive issues, and we can even get angry with each other. Once again, maybe Moore was bullied, in all the circumstances, for a relatively minor offence in the scheme of things. Whatever. But there is no excuse for the hateful way that Burchill has chosen to express herself.