Note: An earlier version of the title of this article included the word “blind.” Someone pointed out to me that this usage was ableist, so I have changed it. Apologies for my mistake. –Savannah
Earlier this week, British journalist Suzanne Moore wrote a piece in the New Statesman titled “Seeing Red: the Power of Female Anger.” In the overarching theme of the article, Moore has a strong point to make: that women’s anger can be a powerful force for justice against male social dominance and patriarchy’s control over women’s lives and women’s bodies. It critiques soft-bellied mainstream liberal forces, for example, for attempting to cozy up to patriarchy regarding rape allegations against Julian Assange (see, for example, Naomi Wolf’s comments on the issue on Democracy Now).
That having been said, there are other feminist writers who have written similar critiques, and written them better. Moore hints at her position of privileged ignorance when she speaks up for Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman without any mention of Caitlin’s unapologetic racism (given what is revealed below, I also question whether Moore has any business discussing women’s rights in the context of the Arab Spring– personally I would rather hear from an Arab woman who was actually, you know, there).
Things take a more blatant turn for the worse however when Moore makes the following comment:
“The cliché is that female anger is always turned inwards rather than outwards into despair. We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.”
Note first of all that Moore does not refer to “a Brazilian trans woman” (or even “a Brazilian transsexual woman”), she refers to “a transsexual” in an odd way that hints of a suggested non-gendered individual. This might seem like a subtle point, however I can assure the reader that most trans women (who get this kind of crap all the time) will pick up on it immediately. When we see this kind of thing, we get that it hints at a deeper transphobic mentality. In the present case, this deeper mentality was confirmed rather swiftly after an ally questioned Moore about this on twitter; Moore responded with a pretty epic trans-misogynistic twitter rant (epic, although sadly familiar).
For example, when a cis woman ally questions her on transphobia, Moore responds:
“Transphobia is your term. I have issues with trans anything actually.”
which makes pretty clear she doesn’t take trans people or the oppression they face very seriously. However, when questioned further she makes the extent of her outright trans-misogyny quite clear when she says:
“I dont prioritise this fucking lopping bits of your body over all else that is happening to women Intersectional enough for you?”
She goes onto compound this by explicitly denying transphobia exists (she also reveals her racism by denying Islamophobia exists in the same tweet) and once trans women themselves get involved in the conversation, she really goes to town by tweeting:
“) People can just fuck off really. Cut their dicks off and be more feminist than me. Good for them.
2)P Intersectionality my arse. Thats the polite word for the moral superiority of much of this discourse.
3) Here is the essay . Judge for yourselves newstatesman.com/politics/2…“
I dunno, maybe she’s drunk when she tweets this stuff? Honestly, I don’t even understand point (2) (is Moore saying she opposes morality?? Or hey, maybe she just believes in Moore-ality instead!!).
But in any case, her comments in point (1) (and another just blatantly making fun of us using idiotic cliché “born in the wrong body” narratives that most trans people reject) make pretty clear she doesn’t give a shit what trans women think and doesn’t care about our experiences, our lives, or our struggle against oppression (or the fact that much of it overlaps with cis women’s struggles in the first place).
Now with all this in mind, I want to propose my thoughts on why Moore referred to Brazilian trans women’s bodies in the first place: I think she wanted to use a certain woman’s body type as a kind of dartboard for a woman that she deems as ridiculous or dismissible. She knew she couldn’t get away with pointing to the body of “a Victoria’s Secret model” or “a Hollywood Starlet” because she would immediately get called out for her misogyny. So she went the route of conjuring up a Brazilian trans woman’s body in part cause she thought that no actual Brazilian trans woman would read the article and complain. Of course, plenty of trans women in Britain and elsewhere (women who speak English as a first language rather than Portuguese) picked up on it and called her out on it immediately.
Indeed, she attempted to defend herself on this point in twitter, saying “you will notice the huge numbers of Brazilian trans[s]exuals complaining”. She also states “I deliberately used the word Brazilian trans[s]exual as ideal shape small hips and big T and A. So ban me.”
In other words, Moore is deliberately picking on women of a certain body type, using Brazilian trans women as a stand-in for a wider class of women who she apparently views as ridiculous caricatures.
And speaking of caricatures, why exactly is Moore is suggesting that all Brazilian trans women have the same body type? For one thing, Brazil is a huge country that is well known for its diversity.
What’s more, trans women in Brazil happen to be incredibly vulnerable to violence overwhelmingly committed by men. So, you know, maybe they aren’t the best targets for Suzanne Moore’s “feminist” throw-away joke?
However, we find out there is a history to Moore’s transphobia; in fact, she herself recently tweeted a link to this unbelievable Independent article from April 1997, aptly titled “Gender Blender” discussing the case of a trans man who was refused to register himself as the father of his children (conceived through artificial insemination). The article goes on to refer to “hermaphrodite” worms and buys into the familiar, long discredited trope that trans people serve to prop up the traditional gender binary. The highlight however of course would be the following passage (emphasis added, comments in brackets […] are mine):
“The transsexual is continually having to insist that he or she is the real thing but was previously merely trapped in the wrong body. This is the dominant discourse of gender dysphoria [imposed on trans people by cis people]. In order to get a sex change in the first place, one has to perform as the chosen gender at the same time as insisting that ever since childhood one has known that something is deeply wrong [because cis people have long insisted that it be so]. Once the body is altered, the transsexual’s true identity can emerge in harmony with his or her brand-new freshly mutilated body.“
Well, that is serious pathologization of trans people’s bodies right there.
Now today, Moore has printed a new column in the Guardian, making a pretend attempt to alleviate the situation but not actually seriously addressing any of the criticisms that have been made of her comments and not at all acknowledging the “mutilation”-type comments that are the absolute worst part of the things she said.
She did however acknowledge her jealousy of Brazilian model Gisele Bündchen (maybe she doesn’t get that Bündchen is cis? I dunno…) and she stated her reasons that she doesn’t like the word transphobia:
“I don’t think it adds to our understanding of the complex webs of hatred it invokes, but instead closes down discussion.”
Right Suzanne, the word “transphobia” closes down your discussion of our supposedly “mutilated” genitalia. Damn that sucks cause I felt like we were really getting somewhere with that conversation!
She later states:
“…to be told that I hate transgender people feels a little … irrelevant. Other people’s genital arrangements are less interesting to me than the breakdown of the social contract.”
Funny Suzanne, you claim not to be interested in other people’s genitals shortly after yelling about those exact genitals on twitter non-stop for hours!
As a final point, let’s consider her statement on intersectionality:
“Intersectionality is good in theory, though in practice, it means that no one can speak for anyone else. It is the dead-end where much queer politics, feminist politics and identity politics ends up. In its own rectum. It refuses to engage with many other political discourses and becomes the old hierarchy of oppression.”
Suzanne, you completely misunderstand what intersectionality even means when you make this statement. Intersectionality does not mean that no one can speak for anyone else (notice that I have cited cis allies in this piece? You know people who don’t refer to mutilated genitals, etc., etc.?). Intersectionality means not turning on other women. Intersectionality means holding ourselves accountable to others and being open to critique when speaking about the oppression of others.
That’s what it means. So for example, when a trans woman tells you that the comment you made about Brazilian trans women in your article was transphobic, intersectionality simply demands that you listen and take those concerns seriously… as opposed to denying a trans woman’s narrative, denying transphobia exists, and making fun of her by talking about her “mutilated” genitalia that you claim you have no fucking interest in talking about in the first place!