Wednesday, 13 June 2018

False equivalence on stilts: Mumsnet's new censorship.


Today Mumsnet have come out with some badly transphobic guidelines which can only be regarded ill-considered at the most generous, profoundly transphobic at worst. They have said they are going to ban transphobia, terms like "TIM" ("Trans-identified male") and the like, although transphobes on Mumsnet are apparently already trying to find ways of producing new abusive and transphobic terms in order to get round this. How many hundreds of mods Mumsnet are going to employ to monitor this is unclear. 

However for false equivalence they have decided ban the term  "cis-". This is not only ridiculous, it is profoundly transphobic and reflects the institutional transphobia endemic at Mumsnet. "Cis-" as a prefix, they claim is offensive to "feminists", swallowing the rhetoric that "cis-" is somehow a form of abuse (in fact it is only a form of abuse if you are a transphobic bigot). Mumsnet are exposing their bias here and it isn't pretty.

The prefix "cis-" was first used in relation to gender by Dr Ernst Burchard, a cisgender doctor - and one of the earliest campaigners for gay rights - in "Lexikon des Gesamten Sexuallebens" published in German in 1914 and the term "cisgender" was first used by a cis male academic called Sigusch in 1998. It was created in order to provide a counterbalance to "trans-" so that people didn't have to say "non-trans" or "normal" when referring to someone who is cisgender. "Cis-" is effectively like the prefix "hetero-" in heterosexual. We don't talk about people who are not gay men or lesbians as "normal" people, so why should be have to do just that for trans people on Mumsnet?

In effect Mumsnet have censored trans people from using their discussion boards because we can no longer name people who are cisgender except in a way that Others us, pathologizes us or marks us out as somehow "abnormal" or not valid. In effect this is an Orwellian kind of censorship at a lexicon level (like "doubleplusgood") from a media platform that has complained noisily about Orwellian "censorship" when trans people called them out on the abuse we have been receiving on Mumsnet.

So it doesn't just reveal Mumsnet's institutional transphobia but their profound hypocrisy also. They cried foul to that other transphobic media platform, The Times, about being held to account for the transphobia in their forums yet have now banned some elements of the very behaviour they said trans people were threatening "censorship" by complaining about. In other words by their own standards of a few weeks ago they now are "censoring" themselves. This is not merely hypocritical, it is pathetic.

They are effectively excluding discussion by trans people and our allies by denying us legitimate terminology; banning a term that is, by the way, in the Oxford English Dictionary. Without being able to use a term like "cisgender" they are effectively making it impossible for trans people to engage in any meaningful debate in important areas. Their attempt to appear even-handed has ended up being oppressive and effectively taking the side of the oppressor. False equivalence is the name of the game, something trans people are very familiar with in the media, particularly broadcast media. And something the CEO of Mumsnet should be very familiar with since her partner is a senior commissioning editor in Channel 4, which recently produced an abusive and demeaning "debate" about my right to exist.

Mumsnet have got it badly wrong, they have demonstrated that
they are institutionally transphobic and in Desmond Tutu's terms are not even taking the side of the oppressor by being neutral, they are taking the side of the oppressor, period. Their motivation for this...? The only conclusion I can come up with is that they want to maintain their abusive transphobic user-base while avoiding complaints of abuse to advertisers; screenshots of transphobic abuse next to adverts make advertisers nervous. It is worth noting that trans people have been complaining about this kind of transphobic abuse on their site for literally years and they have arrogantly ignored us and brushed us off. 

But the implications of Mumsnet's censorship go much further into dangerous territory...

As an academic the last place I would ever want go to discuss my work is of course Mumsnet, but now even if I wanted to I would be unable to since my most recent peer-reviewed publications, and some soon to come not only use terms with the prefix "cis-" ("Cultural cisgenderism" and "Cis-mythologization") throughout but they use them in the title. In effect my research is now banned from Mumsnet. No great loss from my point of view but should we should regard this as the modern equivalent of book-burning? 

When the Nazis started to burn
books in Berlin University in 1933, among the first into the flames were those of Magnus Hirschfeld, a researcher into trans people. The comparison is too obvious not to make.  Indeed I am not the only academic some of whose work it is now prohibited to discuss on Mumsnet; Gavi Ansara's and Peter Hegarty's award-winning research publication "Cisgenderism in psychology: pathologising and misgendering children from 1999 to 2008" (which originally coined the term "cisgenderism") is also banned under Mumsnet's new regime as are works by both transgender and cisgender academics including; Dr Ruth Pearce, Prof Dean Spade, Dr Julia Serano, Prof Rogers Brubaker, Prof Susan Stryker, Dr Jemma Tosh, Dr Diane Ehrensaft, Asst Prof Z Nicolazzo, Asst Prof Tobias Raun,  Prof Sara Ahmed, Dr Meg-John BarkerCN Lester... I could go on and on...

To go from complaining to mainstream media about "censorship" to implementing a thoroughly Orwellian censorship regime of its own is quite a feat of hypocrisy even by Mumsnet's own pitiful standards, and something trans people are used to as pretty much the default setting of transphobes. However banning a term that is the equivalent of "heterosexual-" is not only bizarre but profoundly oppressive, the fact that it prevents the discussion of work by a wide range of academics is, in practical terms no great loss, Mumsnet is really just a cesspit of hate and ignorance. The symbolism of it however is very significant indeed.

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