Suzanne Moore

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This article will in time become a more general profile of Guardian journalist Suzanne Moore, but for now continues as the original two articles linked to the trans activist over reaction to her reference to Brazilian transsexuals.

In The Matrix>, the hero Neo encourages himself as he leads a seemingly impossible rescue attempt by repeating a line that he heard earlier in the film from a boy philosopher; "There is no spoon." The journalist Suzanne Moore would have done well to have learnt from Neo and realised that, in the dispute raging between her and a segment of the online trans community, there is no hole. This dispute began over her excellent article "Seeing Red: the power of female anger," and where the debate is currently at is well summed up by Roz Kaveney in a response to an ill-advised defence of Moore by Julie Burchill. The launch-pad for the dispute was a telling line in Moore's article "We [women] are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual." That is a telling line in terms of how it encapsulates body fascism, but it tells us nothing about whether Moore is transphobic or not, as the statement is the very opposite of being transphobic. It reminds me of a witty response a non-trans woman made to a series of transphobic comments by non-trans men on an article about gender reassignment: "Transsexuals: tall, long legs, slim hips - what's not to hate?"

That riposte to male transphobes was not transphobic and nor was Suzanne's reference to Brazilian transsexuals. The true cause of the dispute was not Moore's article, but the strong reaction from a section of the trans online activist lobby that is so trigger-happy that it often shoots itself in the foot. The comment was not transphobic, but Moore's response on Twitter apparently was and led her to close or suspend her account on that social media network. In a comment piece by Zoe Stavri about Moore's original article and angry response to criticism, she accuses her of digging a deeper hole in the subsequent article. It would appear to me that Suzanne's real problem is that she did not tell herself at the outset of the dispute, "There is no hole." For Stavri's article is wrong in interpreting the original article as containing a transphobic comment. Indeed, Stavri repeats a transphobic line that so many of the trans lobby have been putting out, that of reducing all Brazilian transsexuals to the status of murder victims. Suzanne reduced them to the status of conforming to the beauty industry's projected ideal of what a woman should look like. No group should be reduced to any stereotype, but if I was a Brazilian transsexual and given a choice between being an aesthetic ideal and a murder victim in waiting, I know which I would opt for. For the record I am over-weight London Irish transsexual and as far from being an aesthetic ideal as I am from being Brazilian.

When I first became aware of this dispute between Moore and a section of the trans online community, I was taken back to the memory of a colleague at Chester University. In a staff meeting, she railed against using the term "blackboard," because apparently the term "black" was offensive. I was given short shrift for pointing out that "black" was not offensive to black Britons and, as a white Briton, she should not be banning a term in defence of the black community. In this online storm, much has been made of the fact that so many Brazilian transsexuals were murdered in the last year. Yet, from those contributors whose ethnicity I am aware of, these comments seem to come from the same ethnicity as my erstwhile colleague. I suspect that most Brazilian transsexuals do not want to be reduced to being apprentice murder victims, but as this dispute is a recent one, I have not had the time to research Brazilian transsexual responses to Moore's comment.

Unfortunately, Moore thought that there was a hole and dug herself not a trench, but an unintended escape tunnel from Twitter. Of course, the handy things about hidden tunnels is that until they are discovered you can go back to where you started, and Twitter accounts can be re-activated. Indeed, it might be argued that Suzanne's subsequent article ("I don't care if you were born a woman or became one" ), which prompted Stavri's riposte, is not further digging, but Moore retreating back up the tunnel in the realization that maybe there never was a hole. In that article, Moore maintains that she was not saying that she was against transgender people, but in favour of preserving the gains made by women in recent decades. Stavri's interpretation of this as Moore furthering her transphobia is a justification of the article's central point: that identity politics becomes irrelevant when it fails to engage with issues other than that of defending the group's identity. Stavri, and Kaveney, call Moore to task for not apologising, but it should, in fact, be the trigger-happy trans commentariat who should say sorry. They owe an apology for needlessly taking offence and not being prepared to acknowledge their over-reaction. For Moore to apologise would be to admit that Brazilian transsexuals should be seen as murder victims rather than as an aesthetic ideal, while ignoring the fact that the people to judge on this matter would be a representative sample of said Brazilian transsexuals. Dear unrepresentative sample of the trans community, please stop digging. There is no hole. Accept that reality and maybe you can do something seemingly impossible for the wider trans community.

Where Have All the Comments Gone?

In January there was a huge controversy over Suzanne Moore's use of the phrase "Brazilian transsexual" in her New Statesman article "Seeing Red: The Power of Female Anger." If you have clicked on the link to read Suzanne's article you will notice something odd in the comments section - they are mostly about people complaining about those complaining about the article's supposed transphobia, but none of those complaints are there. So where have all the comments gone? Has The New Statesman deleted the negative comments because of the fear of legal action or have trans activists decided that it would be wise to delete those comments?

When Jane Fae proclaimed in her eponymous article that "The Trans Community Has Finally Arrived," she was making a case for this controversy (and a health campaign to which I will return) being a ground-breaking moment that united the trans community. Fae has form in proclaiming that something that happened a week ago is the ground-breaking moment, having previously given this praise to the reaction to the violent attack on a trans woman in a burger bar, again using the theme that the trans community said "enough." In this more recent claim to a defining trans moment, Fae uses another theme that might explain why activists might have deleted (or welcomed the deletion of) their posts. That theme is the claim the whole controversy was not the responsibility of trans people, but provoked by a non-trans person on Twitter. That theme is actually thrown in criticism at Fae in her article on online bullying, "Misogyny, Intimidation, Silencing - The Realities of Online Bullying." The commenter, Pollik, claims that it was Suzanne who hurled the first Twitter abuse, ignoring the fact that she has just quoted Fae complaining about the online abuse, i.e., not limited to Twitter. She also ignores her own rant a week earlier about the "lazy journalism" behind an article on the controversy in The Week, where she noted that a few had expressed their offence before the Twitter fall-out. Those few would include the many comments from trans people that have since disappeared from the "Seeing Red" article.

When Moore's article was posted I read it quite early and the third comment I read was from a trans woman complaining that it was appalling to use the phrase "Brazilian transsexual" given the number of Brazilian trans women murdered in the past year. That comment has been deleted along with several similar ones and the only remaining comment self-identified as from a trans person is from Miss Madrigal writing in support of Moore. So have the deletions been made by over-zealous moderation by The New Statesman or by the commenters? I suspect that it is primarily site moderation as one commenter complains about some of her posts being removed, but the deletions serve a purpose for a defensive trans community, namely to "prove" the theme of the first complaint against Suzanne being made by a non-trans woman.

So why is the trans activist community so defensive? Partly it is because many trans activists have been appalled at the hatred unleashed against Moore, even Jane changed her stance, complaining on her own blog about the attempts to threaten Suzanne's safety. Another major reason for this disquiet is that the day Moore's hounding began on the New Statesman site and on Twitter came at a most unfortunate moment for the trans community. It occurred just as these activists were building up a Twitter based campaign on trans mistreatment by the medical professions under the hashtag #transdocfail. This worthy campaign was completely overshadowed by the online bullying of Moore and while the debates over two words, "Brazilian transsexual," dominated the media, there was little publicity gained for the health campaign, other than when it was raised by trans representatives interviewed about the bullying. The article that sparked the anger was subtitled "The power of female anger," but anger provoked by a misunderstanding of just two words destroyed a worthwhile campaign. Hopefully, the lesson will be absorbed by the trans community that activism is a dish best served cool. It is also to be hoped that Suzanne Moore's article can now get the credit it deserves, although she may no longer think that seeing red is so hot.

© Mercia McMahon. All rights reserved