Wednesday, 18 February 2015

How the Campbell Letter changed between signing and publication

  • RED is for parts that have been taken out of the original
  • PURPLE is for parts of the published edition that are different from the original
  • Courier is the original letter
  • Arial is the published letter

"Goldsmith's College in London last month cancelled a performance by the comedian Kate Smurthwaite because of concerns about students' safety. Ms Smurthwaite had previously expressed support for a Scandinavian-style law which would make it illegal to purchase sexual services-a measure which Goldsmith's Feminist Society opposes. Her show's theme, ironically, was freedom of speech (no reference to prostitution), and a majority of FemSoc members voted in favour of allowing it to go ahead. However, the minority who dissented decided to picket the event, and faced with threatened disruption the organizers decided to cancel.

The fate of Kate Smurthwaite’s comedy show, cancelled by Goldsmith’s College in London last month (“What could be more absurd than censorship on campus”, Nick Cohen, Comment)  is part of a worrying pattern of intimidation and silencing of individuals whose views are deemed “transphobic” or “whorephobic”. Most of the people so labelled are feminists or pro-feminist men, some have experience in the sex industry, some are transgender.

This is not an isolated incident. It is part of a worrying pattern of intimidation and silencing of individuals whose views are deemed 'transphobic' or 'whorephobic'. Most of the people so labelled are feminists or pro-feminist men; some of them are themselves transgender people or people with direct experience of working in the sex industry.

Last month, there were calls for the Cambridge Union to withdraw a speaking invitation to Germaine Greer; then the Green party came under pressure to repudiate the philosophy lecturer Rupert Read after he questioned the arguments put forward by some trans-activists. The feminist activist and writer Julie Bindel has been “no-platformed” by the National Union of Students for several years.

Kate Smurthwaite's is the third high-profile case in the last few weeks. Last month, there were calls for the Cambridge Union to withdraw a speaking invitation to Germaine Greer (the Union declined to do so);then the Green Party came under pressure to repudiate the philosophy lecturer Rupert Read after he questioned the arguments put forward by some trans-activists (he was forced to issue an apology.

The feminist activist and writer Julie Bindel has been 'no-platformed' by the National Union of Students for several years, and is now effectively barred from speaking to student audiences on any subject.

'No platforming' used to be a tactic used against self-proclaimed fascists and Holocaust deniers, but today it is being used more and more often to prevent the expression of feminist views.

“No platforming” used to be a tactic used against self-proclaimed fascists and Holocaust-deniers. But today it is being used to prevent the expression of feminist arguments critical of the sex industry and of some demands made by trans activists. The feminists who hold these views have never advocated or engaged in violence against any group of people. Yet it is argued that the mere presence of anyone said to hold those views is a threat to a protected minority group’s safety.

The views being targeted are critical of the sex industry, and of some demands made by trans activists, but-unlike the argument that the Holocaust never happened-they fall within the scope of legitimate political debate.The feminists who hold these views have never advocated or engaged in violence against any group of people.

Yet it is argued that their views are 'hate speech', and that the mere presence of anyone who is said to hold those views (even if, like Kate Smurthwaite, they are not actually planning to express them) is a threat to the safety of a protected minority group.  You do not have to agree with the views that are being silenced to find these tactics illiberal and undemocratic. What has happened to Julie Bindel, Rupert Read and now Kate Smurthwaite is a warning to anyone who shares their views, or who hasn't made up their mind and wants to explore the arguments further.

It says: 'you are not even allowed to hear the arguments. Either agree with us or keep quiet, because if you don't, you'll pay the price’.

Universities have a particular responsibility to resist this kind of bullying. Freedom of thought and inquiry are central to the mission of a university: allowing a vocal minority to decide in advance which thoughts or arguments should get a hearing is a betrayal of the values academic communities are supposed to uphold.

We call on universities and on other organizations which may be subject to the same pressure, to stand up to attempts at intimidation and affirm their support for the basic principles of democratic political exchange.

You do not have to agree with the views that are being silenced to find these tactics illiberal and undemocratic. Universities have a particular responsibility to resist this kind of bullying. We call on universities and other organisations to stand up to attempts at intimidation and affirm their support for the basic principles of democratic political exchange.

Is this what Bea Campbell means... "feminist arguments critical [...] of some demands made by trans activists."?

Here Bea Campbell retweets an abusive tweet by a TERF. This would appear to be what Campbell describes as "critical arguments". If these are "critical arguments" I would hate to see her "abusive diatribes". 

I have blogged before about how Campbell's campaign to introduce transphobic "arguments" into universities will only result in this sort of abuse being spouted on a regular basis. There are no rational arguments against trans people, against my existence, that have not been comprehensively discredited, what is left is nothing more than abuse and harassment. 

This illustrates this issue vividly. If this sort of abuse is being retweeted by Campbell; the originator of the Guardian letter, then what hope is there for the kind of "critical arguments" she tells us will be part of free, democratic "debate" in universities? She is the one asserting that universities should stand up for "democratic political exchange". in effect she is just arguing for the right to abuse and harass trans people. She has now demonstrated that she herself is incapable of engaging in any kind of reasoned debate without resorting to abuse.

I am sure those who signed her letter expected TERFs to come out some reasoned, logical, respectful engagement with considered arguments, not this kind of mud-slinging, retweeted by her and coming from another of the signatories to the letter. I hope this disabuses them of her real intentions. TERFs have never been able to engage in rational, critical argument about trans people, they have nothing left but abuse. Bea Campbell knows this, she has clearly engaged in transphobic abuse herself. She demonstrates by her own actions that what she is demanding is unachievable. 

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

A TERF comes clean about "gender-critical" feminism.

It's not often oppressors genuinely admit that they are oppressing people, they usually cloud their actions in euphemisms like "gender-critical" or "not transphobic". This time it is different however, we have a prominent TERF admitting a popular TERF website is deliberately trying to harm young trans people. Hard on the heels of Bea Campbell's campaign to bring transphobic hate speech into universities, an individual on social media called @jenderfatigue has admitted that the reason the transphobic website "Dirt" (a website that Sheila Jeffreys gratefully acknowledges in her book "Gender Hurts"*)exists is to intimidate trans male adolescents, and to try and prevent them from coming out or transitioning.

@jenderfatigue responds to questioning by @viviphilia with the following tweet;

This is a very significant admission by a TERF and illustrates the kind of activities we can expect in universities should Bea Campbell get her way.  The full Twitter conversation is here.

Let's just analyse it for a moment; "It deters others from transition." is a chilling admission that these TERFs are deliberately intimidating young trans boys as they come out, trying to force them to be a gender they are not. This is dangerous, it is in effect a kind of Conversion Therapy; a (mis)use of panoptic power by some very creepy individuals indeed, to harm some of the most vulnerable people in society at the most vulnerable time in their lives; coming out and starting transition. 

But it gets worse; "It gives women community." sounds innocuous enough on the surface but it demonstrates how the likes of Dirt are using hatred for another group to create community allegiance. I am sure readers will recognise how this has been used throughout history; a group of people have been identified as objects of hate, dehumanised with the express purpose of generating a kind of mindless following of people sharing the same hatred. It then becomes easy to manipulate and direct this group to cause harm through violence, further intimidation and fear. 

This is further evidence that TERFs do not argue, If they had any serious arguments they would not have to resort to this kind of harassment. TERFs do not "debate", they have nothing to debate about; their arguments have been discredited a hundred times over. There is not more point in arguing with a TERF than arguing with a member of the EDL. They claim to be "gender critical" yet they produce no criticism of gender, only hatred of trans people. Are these Bea Campbell's "unpopular views"? To be frank the trans haters have no credible "arguments", as Bea Campbell wants us to believe, all I have ever seen them do is engage in abuse, harassment, disinformation, straw man arguments and this kind of stalking, they have no other option. Not only do they they abuse, harass and stalk trans adults, they abuse, harass and stalk trans children. There is a special place in Hell for such people. Truly sickening individuals.

These look like the people Bea Campbell wants to unleash on our universities. 

*“I am grateful, too, to the new wave of radical feminism both online and offline. Radical feminist bloggers such as… Dirt from ‘Dirt from Dirt’, among others, have provided invaluable factual material, references and ideas on their blogs, without which it would have been harder to write this book. Indeed, over the period that this book has been incubating, radical feminist bloggers strengthened and clarified my analysis.” [1] – Sheila Jeffreys, Gender Hurts, Acknowledgements 

(Thanks to the awesome Cristan Williams for bringing this to my attention)

Monday, 16 February 2015

Open Letter to Mary Beard

Dear Mary,

I am truly sorry the aftermath of the Campbell letter caused you to cry. I know how you feel, I have had to cry myself to sleep on many occasions because of what people have said about me on social media, everything from out-and-out lies to deliberate misgendering, which is very, very unpleasant if you are trans. Like you, I am a busy academic, teaching at Goldsmiths College and completing a PhD at UCL, and I am taking time out from working on that PhD to write to you. I am doing this because I believe you are worth writing to and because I believe you will listen to the points I need to make. So I have waited until the Twitterstorm has subsided a bit because I would like to explain to you the issues with regards those "feminists" who want to bounce Student Unions into allowing transphobes to speak. The issues are much more complex than might otherwise be assumed from the outside.

Firstly, I understand the normal response to the no-platforming debate; that all issues should be debated at university in an atmosphere of understanding of the issues and freedom of speech. I am sure however, that you are understand that this might be somewhat Panglossian, unfortunately the world simply doesn't work like that. The issues I intend to outline to you come under four headings:

  1. The debate between transphobic “feminists” and trans people has historically been one in which the former has abused and assaulted the latter over a long period.
  2. The mere fact that those opposed to my existence are able to stage any kind of debate is not neutral. 
  3. Those opposed to my existence have a long history of preventing fair debate and silencing trans people, and many of those who co-signed the letter have been party to attempts to silencing trans people.
  4. Universities are the most common places where young trans people come out, and as such transphobic speakers there would have particularly negative effects on individual Trans people
In addition I was able to see a copy of the email which Bea Campbell was sending round with an early iteration of her letter attached inviting individuals to sign it. It did not elaborate at all on any of the issues, nor did it invite anyone to consider that there might be alternative points of view, or how one might investigate those alternative points of view. If you got the same email as the one I saw, I suspect it didn’t really give any information at all. So not only is her published letter quite one-sided, which one would expect, but the way she presented it to you and others to sign failed to suggest that there are alternative perspectives, and that potential signatories might like to become more acquainted with the Issues in this instance, especially since she must have been fully aware that this letter would provoke an angry reaction on social media; she knew this would happen and didn’t warn you. I find this disturbing, but in character.

This appears to be why so many trans people are upset at your signing. This letter is my attempt to put those points of view to you in a way Bea Campbell did not.

So to reason number one. The so-called "feminists" who wish to initiate a debate about my existence have probably glossed over the nature and history of this "debate". This is a debate that has raged since the early 1970s and which quickly became violent. Despite denying that their anti-trans position is essentialist, it clearly always has been and it has resulted in physical attacks on trans women and allies, in the case of Sandy Stone, threats of violence against other members the feminist collective, Olivia Records, of which she was a part. The debate, quite frankly, went downhill from there, with Janice Raymond publishing a book in which she suggested that people like myself should be "morally mandated out of existence”. A senior academic also helped the Reagan government to withhold gender reassignment healthcare from trans people. Many blame Raymond for the high level of violence experienced by trans people in the US, especially trans women, and more specifically black and Hispanic trans women, who were placed in vulnerable situations as a result of trying to find means to fund surgery by the only profession open to them.

Since then transphobic "feminists" have worked hard and consistently to harm trans people, they have consistently spread deliberate disinformation about trans people, including making it appear that there are large numbers of "regretters" after surgery, which there are not. They have described as “child-abuse” the treatment for trans children which involves the entirely reversible and medically safe administration of hormone blockers to delay the onset of puberty and give them the opportunity to take stock and decide for themselves at age 18, whether or not to have surgery. Ironically they are effectively arguing for trans children and adolescents to be forced to go through puberty in a body which they do not recognise; a dangerous, harmful and medically unethical position. In my opinion it is their desire to prevent this from happening that represents child abuse by proxy.

So those wishing to debate my existence rely almost entirely on disinformation and misrepresentation of trans people’s lives. Indeed I have come across no argument from their side that is not either based on entirely unsupported assumptions or unprovable/undisprovable assertions, or which are not deliberate falsehoods about people like me. Indeed one argument made by these people; that trans women assault cisgender women in toilets has been shown to be false. These transphobic "feminists" collaborated with a well-funded right-wing "religious" group called the Pacific Justice Institute. The PJI devoted its not inconsiderable resources to trying to find instances of this happening. They found not one, but still accused us of all sorts of things anyway. Debate under these circumstances is both impossible and pointless. 

The second reason is simply that holding a “debate” at which one side is effectively being forced to argue for their entire existence against a group of people who would erase us, force us into even more marginalised, dangerous and vulnerable lives, is not a neutral position. Simply engaging in any debate on those terms represents a considerable advantage to those who would like to see us dead. (Yes I know this sounds like an exaggeration, unfortunately it is not). No-one is ever going to engage in any kind of debate on those terms, it would be like a neverending trial in a kangaroo court. In effect, those who are arguing for my existence to be debated in universities are arguing for a debate at which their views are unopposed. I’m afraid there is no neutral position in this instance, there is no middle way, no half-way house. The mere fact that this issue is being debated would result in an extremely unequal playing field and a one-sided debate.

The third reason is that those transphobic “feminists” who wish to debate my existence are a group that has a long and sordid history of silencing and intimidating trans people. Indeed I invariably attract quite extreme personal abuse online whenever I write something to counter what these transphobic "feminists" have written. They provide no counter-argument, no engagement with the issues I raise, just abuse and occasionally threats. And I count myself lucky, others have been threatened with legal letters from solicitors trying to shut them up, some have had letters written to their employers, trying to get them sacked, in one instance a transphobic "feminist" even tried to intervene in someone’s medical treatment. Transphobic "feminists" have also doxxed trans people who try and engage in debate and have actually doxxed two minors, with the result that one 16-year-old trans girl had to leave school and go on suicide watch after being threatened with death on social media. One transphobic "feminist" academic even employed an expensive firm of solicitors to force blogs that had quoted her own words to stop publishing them. Many of those signing the letter have absolutely no interest whatsoever in free speech or open discussion of the issues. They have no arguments to make that have not been comprehensively dismantled over and over again.

In my opinion all these reasons detailed above are good enough reasons to withdraw your signature, however there is one final reason which is, in my opinion, much more important; holding these debates in universities will actually cause material harm to young trans people who attend those universities.

Universities and colleges are by far the most common locations for young trans people to come out for the first time. This is because schools are particularly hostile places for young trans people and trans children; I have a litany of horror stories, some of which I outline here:

  1. An 8-year-old trans girl who was bullied by her headmaster in a rural school in the West Country, he prevented her from attending school in her real gender and put her through Hell until we were able to threaten him with legal sanctions. This went on for a very long time.
  2. A 13-year-old trans girl who was assaulted quite violently and subjected to physical bullying and 24/7 cyberbullying at school in London. Ultimately she could no longer attend and was given an hour a day home tuition instead. However home is not a safe space for a child and she was subsequently raped by a burglar which caused her to self-harm, to abuse substances and attempt suicide on many occasions.
  3. A young trans man who was bullied so badly at school, and by his local community in a small town in the south of England that he was no longer able to go to school and had to finish his A levels on his own. He has since fled the country!
  4. A young trans woman aged 17 who was bullied so badly by her family, local community and teachers in a small town in the North of England that she found it better to run away to London where she had to resort to sex work to survive. Because of the precarious position of trans women sex workers she has been assaulted by ‘clients’ many times.

I have spent a great deal of time trying to help trans pupils in schools and discrimination against them is common, multilevel and usually ignored by staff. Indeed in some cases staff have been involved in bullying trans kids. So universities and FE colleges are the most important places for young trans people to come out and take their first baby steps in their real genders. They represent a kind of sanctuary or asylum from the endemic harassment that young trans people receive from schools, local people, and even their own parents. University is the first time most have the opportunity to come out and be themselves and start transitioning and many are in very vulnerable, exposed and liminal positions, and their existences are often conditional on the acceptance of those around them. Having transphobic speakers bombarding universities with transphobic content would make life very hard, if not impossible, for these exposed people. Spending lengthy hours constantly defending one’s right to exist is not the best way to come out. This is a point that I have made before and one which, so far, the transphobic "feminists" have not responded to with any counter-argument.

So having “debates” about our right to exist in universities would not be a neutral act; it will manifestly make life harder for young trans people at the time in their lives when they are at their most vulnerable. It would be a profoundly hostile and harmful act for us and it would legitimise what is, in my experience, nothing more than blind hatred and discrimination.

Of course one also has to take account of the issue of power imbalances. People who can get letters in national newspapers complaining about free speech do not seem, from where I am standing, to be suffering from a big problem with being heard. This is not the case for the majority of trans people. As FeministKillJoy blogged today;

"Whenever people keep being given a platform to say they have no platform, or whenever people speak endlessly about being silenced, you not only have a performative contradiction; you are witnessing a mechanism of power"

I am aware that I have only talked about the trans element of Bea Campbell’s “trans/sexworker" conflation. I am one of the relatively privileged and fortunate trans women who has not had (to date anyway) to engage in sex work or survival sex, so I can’t claim to speak for sex workers, although I do know plenty of trans sex workers so I take the lead from them, and when they say the proposals by these “feminists” are currently pursuing to further criminalise the purchase of sex will make their lives more dangerous, I believe them. They are in the best position to know.

Hopefully I have started to give you pause for thought about the Campbell letter. I have a further blog post about this issue here, which deconstructs Campbell’s letter in greater detail. If you would like to discuss any of the issues I raise here further I would be happy to do so at any time.

Best wishes,


Saturday, 14 February 2015

Bea Campbell and Co... Modern-day McCarthyists.

TERFs are nothing if not predictable and in that respect Bea Campbell’s letter to the Guardian (with, wait for it... no ‘comments’ section underneath for responses...!) did not disappoint, it picked up on the decision by Goldsmiths Comedy Society to cancel Kate Smurthwaite's gig at Goldsmiths SU because, so they believed, of the threat of ‘disruption’. A minority of Goldsmiths Feminist Society had voted in favour of protesting about the gig and, in all likelihood a small group of feminists would have leafleted the event, on one of the coldest nights of the last 12 months, shouted a few slogans and gone down the Amersham Arms for a half of Kronenbourg before going home to a nice warm bed. 

In fact Kate Smurthwaite had only sold 8 tickets for her gig and many have suggested that this is the real reason it was cancelled; her performance probably wouldn’t even have covered her bus fare, better to stay at home with a pair of wooly socks on and watch a DVD. The likelihood of any trouble outside the gig was probably proportionate to the likelihood of a City hedge fund manager paying full UK tax. I know, my office is very near the SU building and it is not an easy place to demonstrate outside; the entrance is off a narrow pavement on the inside of a blind bend in the road, and it is about 30 feet from the security staff office. If anything kicked off they would have had a significant presence there in about 10 seconds.

So Campbell’s main accusation would appear to be largely based on the idea of something that-might-have-happened-which-could-have-been-a-tiny-bit-intimidatory-but-which-didn’t-actually-happen-and-so-wasn’t-intimidatory-at-all. Instead her “courageous” championing of “free-speech” turns out to be nothing more than pop McCarthyism. An unknown bunch of feminists are condemned for doing something which did not happen. Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy would have been proud.

Add to this the inconvenient fact that no-one at Goldsmiths, other than the Comedy Soc actually banned the gig or even tried to stop it from happening, not the University, not the Students Union, not the FemSoc, no-one.  Suddenly Campbell and her fellow conspirators start to look more than a little, well, strange.

This McCarthyism would have been ridiculous enough were it not for Campbell’s decision, in her letter, to champion the cause of Germaine Greer speaking at Cambridge University; a speaking engagement which also went ahead, although an alternative, concurrent, non-transphobic event at which Sarah Brown and Roz Kaveney spoke, was significantly better attended.

Using Germaine Greer as a vehicle to argue against no-platforming is rather like using Lord Fink as a vehicle to argue against more tax inspectors. Greer has herself been accused of attempting to exclude a trans woman when she initially refused to take part in a publishing project because Roz Kaveney was working on it. I guess Campbell thinks it is OK to no-platform some people but not others.

Obviously the spectacle of a list that includes journalists and senior academics potentially condemning the voiceless for engaging in a minor protest underlines the unequal power that trans people and those advocating on behalf of sex workers have relative to well-connected middle-class journalists. Doubtless the irony is lost on most of the signatories.

Does this mean that all those signing Campbell’s letter are transphobes? Well the usual rent-a-TERF crowd were there, the usual names, but it would appear that some others may have signed it without knowing the full story.  Will they have the guts to admit they did and withdraw their names? One would hope so, the realisation that one has allied onesself with some of the most bitter, disingenuous and deceitful transphobic bigots around, should give some pause for thought.

Moral of the story…? Think before you sign, especially in this era of New McCarthyism.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Darren Johnson: More Green Party Transphobia

The Green Party really has a profound transphobia problem, and it appears to be getting worse. Previously problematic attitudes have been exhibited by;

  • Parliamentary candidate for Cambridge and significant party donor 
  • another Green party tweeter (who is now described as having “left the party”), 
  • the Cambridge Young Greens and 
  • another prominent former parliamentary candidate for Hampstead & Kilburn

All these have shown how transphobia in the party runs deep and, I suspect, hidden in those depths there lurk more.

The latest example of Green Party transphobia appears to be coming from one of their London Assembly Members, Darren Johnson, who seems to be encouraging TERFs and TERFism. He is joining in with spreading the fiction that “TERF” is silencing genuine critical debate about gender. 

He seems to be ignoring the fact that this “gender critical” debate is entirely about attempts to delegitimise trans people by people who wish to harm us, and in some cases wish to see us dead. If Darren Johnson thinks my life, my existence or my identity as a trans woman are up for debate he really doesn't have a clue about what it means to be a trans person. 

He is now receiving the plaudits of some of the web’s worst transphobes and, like Read, appears to support their efforts to delegitimise, and consequently harm, trans people. This matters because, as Caroline Lucas has admitted today the main purpose of the Green Party is to influence Labour. This is extremely worrying.

The Green Party clearly has a problem with transphobia that is much more profound than they would like to admit. For a party that has marketed itself as more trans-friendly than the others one can only regard these attitudes as invalidating these policies and this supposed trans-friendliness. It is all very well for a party to project “trans-friendly” policies but unless the membership, and elected representatives of that party support those policies and are prepared to implement those policies, they are just so much hot air. I can't imagine these Green Party members supporting proper anti-discrimination policies in any sense.