Monday, February 1, 2010

Julie Bindel Is Not Being Oppressed By Trans Women

Time and time again, the oppressor dares to announce that it is being censored or oppressed, when marginalized bodies refuse to accept a secondary status.  On Sunday Beatrix Campbell wrote the following for The Guardian:

It is getting as hard to catch sight of her as it is of Aretha Franklin. Bindel is, in effect, being banned. Airing the complications and troubles of transgender politics is being traduced as "transphobia". Transgender people who used to live as men and now live as women persuaded the May 2009 NUS women's conference to mandate its officers to share no platform with Julie Bindel. Proponents say they are offended by Bindel's critique – aired in the Guardian since 2004 – of "trannies"' perceived cultural conservatism and anatomical violence.

The NUS women's campaign shows no solidarity with women who are offended by the presence in their safe spaces of people who used to be men telling them which women they may listen to and who qualifies as queer. This month, her enemies mustered a picket outside Queer Question Time in a London pub. They're not censoring her, they say, you can read her, they say, just don't go to hear her. That renders her "audience" passive consumers but not engaged debaters. By the way, the blogger's sexual semantics are interesting: women should "have the balls" to stop Bindel speaking.

They're offended? So what? Offensiveness is a discourse shared by both politics and comedy. "Offendedness" is a privileged, protected category in the NUS against, specifically, rightwing extremists, racists and Julie Bindel. The women's officer Olivia Bailey insists this is "not no platform" for Bindel. "The expression of transphobic views directly discriminates" against "valued members of our campaign." It's just that, "We welcome our trans sisters" and a group of them "had been made to feel uncomfortable". Again, so what? This solidarity does not extend to women who feel unsettled by the presence of people who used to be men in women-only spaces and services.

Bindell has described trans women as men in dresses, advocated against supporting SRS and has claimed that they have psychological problems.  If that were not enough, she has repeatedly used the hateful slur tranny.  Gee, how could anyone possibly make the incredible leap that the woman is transphobic?

The idea that trans women are just men parading around in dresses is offensive.  Trans women have always been women, they just happened to have been born in the wrong body.  When we exclude trans women from women only spaces, we are expressing our power coercively.   If women are offended by their presence, it is because they are transphobic and refuse to give up their cisgender privilege. 

What Bindell advocates is hatred against a specific category of women and it is no different than White feminists who have a particular aversion to allowing women of colour to voice their experience due to racism.  No space can be defined as safe, as long as hate is allowed to be understood as free speech.  You cannot debate the existence of a person.  The moment we begin to assign someone out group status, we are laying the foundation for oppression.   This is no harmless conversation, when we consider that trans women are already subject to an extremely high rate of violence.

White Cisgender women have historically acted as gatekeepers of feminist spaces and as such have been able to control the conversation and direct it to focus primarily on their needs.   The category of woman is not a monolithic identity and despite the sisterhood mantra, such a narrow view of womanhood is far from inclusive and in fact sets the feminist movement up to participate in the very same form of oppression that it continually accuses patriarchy of.

Hate mongers like Bindell are not being oppressed by not being allowed to spread their hate.   This kind of argument can repeatedly be seen by racists who claim that people of colour want special privileges or by homophobes who wish to wish to question the masculinity or femininity of a gay or lesbian person based solely on sexuality.  What Bindell seeks is the right to assert special privileges for cisgender peoples.  Cissupremacy is not naturally occurring, it is supported daily through the concrete actions of people like Bindell and if we are ever to move away from the idea that it is right to deny the worth of another, such language must be forcefully understood for what it is – hate speech.  True oppression is having your very right to exist questioned, not having your undeserved privileges challenged.