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.