Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Transphobia: How would "free speech" actually work?

Opposing no-platforming, "free speech" campaigners advocate that trans people challenge the views of transphobes by engaging in debate with them at universities. How would that actually work out in practice..."

The debate about whether transphobic bigots should be allowed to use universities to spread their hatred, disinformation and lies about trans people seems to have missed out some very important issues. 

Firstly the way this issue has been dealt with in mainstream media. Only the Huffington Post published an article by an informed trans writer about this subject, the rest of the media has been unremittingly pro-transphobia, pro-Greer. From the Spectator to the Guardian trans voices have been conspicuous by their absence. Greer on the other hand, has been invited to spout as much hate as she can, and has had it all reported. 

If mainstream media wants to argue against no-platforming of TERFs, fine, but they need to put their own house in order first. In effect they have been silencing trans voices on this issue, not a good position from which to argue against what they disingenuously call “censorship”. It is hypocritical to call for an end to “no-platforming” transphobic bigots without including trans voices in the debate.

Secondly those who argue for the “right” of transphobes to use universities to spread their hatred seem to have some odd, Panglossian vision of how this might happen. So for the sake of argument let's assume Zoe Williams, Bea Campbell and Brendan O'Neill get their way, what would "free speech" at a university look like?

  • A transphobe spouting hatred for 60 minutes followed by a few short questions…? Given that many of the “arguments” deployed by transphobes are deliberate oversimplifications, exposing these requires time to develop an argument, how you can develop an argument when being hurried up and told to phrase it as a question beats me.
  • A transphobe sharing a platform with a trans person who can argue back…? I don’t know many trans people who would be willing to do that. I certainly wouldn’t want to legitimise transphobic bigotry by engaging in any kind of debate on those terms. A debate in which my own right to exist is up for discussion is not a debate on fair terms
  • A panel debate which includes a transphobic bigot a trans person and a couple of neutrals…? See Desmond Tutu. Anyone who claims to be “neutral” in this situation is clearly not neutral. A trap. I would walk away. 
  • A transphobe speaking but with no questions at the end or questions submitted earlier to a “neutral” MC…? A cop-out, no chance of really pressing the transphobe and exposing their inconsistencies, and once again a sliencing of trans voices in a way which makes it appear that we are so dangerous that the speaker needs to be protected from them. See Desmond Tutu again.

Once we start thinking these things through it is clear that, under current circumstances there is no prospect of instigating a free and fair debate with a transphobe in a way that is likely to do what the “free speech” advocates claim to want. In reality any such event will still silence trans voices and not achieve the result they claim, that of challenging and exposing the views of the transphobe. When the practicalities of the “free speech” agenda are examined, the results they argue for, cannot be achieved.

Given how the media is suppressing trans views on this matter anyway it would appear that any event at which a transphobe speaks at a university is bound to result simply in more oppression for trans people, especially trans students, the system is still rigged against us, the only weapon we have to defend ourselves is no-platforming. 


Finally, “free speech” advocates across mainstream media have all suggested that trans people defeat transphobic bigots assertions by force of argument. Perhaps then, they would explain how I am supposed to argue against Greer’s deeply abusive and bigoted statement “Trans women are men.”?

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