A version of this article first appeared on UnHerd.com
March 2020. For a few months now I've been trying to write something – anything – about the so-called "trans debate" in my column in The Guardian.
But if I ever add a line about the feminine experience of people with feminine bodies, it gets cut out. He disappeared.
My editors say things like, "It didn't really add to the argument" or "It's a" distraction. " Distraction has always been a trigger word for me. In the right sense.
The editors try consistently to lead me to "lifestyle" topics for my column. One even said I shouldn't touch politics. And yet I had won the Orwell Prize for Political Journalism the year before.
Award-winning journalist Suzanne Moore (pictured) wrote an article on transactional issues for The Guardian before 338 of her "colleagues" wrote a letter of complaint to the editor
Maybe they stopped me from doing certain things because they thought they were dealing with some crazy old guy, or maybe they were scared and indoctrinated into the cult of justice embodied by the Guardian. At best, the paper deserves to be seen as a beacon for the left. But lately it has been difficult to define what the left is made of beyond smug affirmation.
And so the concern about certain issues remains palpable.
But bad columns don't come from bad opinions, they come from a lack of conviction. Readers know this instinctively. So it's a strange thing to distract writers from what they want to write.
Journalism has been in a strange place lately, unsure of what to do. A case of low self-esteem, you might say. But not with The Guardian, which makes journalists redundant, even though it pays moderators to delete comments that refer to me as C *** in my Scottish independence column.
My relationship with the newspaper has always been a bit strange, I think.
But eventually I can write a piece about transactional issues. And then 338 "colleagues" write a letter of complaint to the editor.
Now, six months later, I've resigned. And I'm still trying to figure out why I was treated so horribly.
Oxford working-class history professor Selina Todd (left) criticized Labour's trans guidelines and Guardian editor Katharine Viner (right).
My pain is tiny compared to so much that has happened in the world. It's a flesh wound. But do I look like a doormat that says "Welcome"?
There were no such letters on the various hot attitudes on difficult subjects that The Guardian sometimes published. Seumas Milne, the newspaper's commentary at the time, even reprinted a sermon by Osama bin Laden. What about it? Not a word.
So what did I do that was so horrible? I stepped out of Orthodoxy.
Maybe I need to put my denunciation in a larger context.
When I first got to the paper in the 1990s, there weren't any women on the comment pages. My column was featured on the "women's pages".
Then-editor Peter Preston took me to lunch after I was named Columnist of the Year at the British Press Awards and said, “It must be nice to be a columnist. You can write about painting your toenails. & # 39; I had planned to bring up the idea of a raise but had no idea how to go about it. When he asked if there was anything he could do to make me happier, I blurted out, "Give me more money."
Preston's power lay in silence. I made a terrible faux pas: I wanted to be paid the same as men who weren't as good as me. That was the end of the meal.
The thing is, I found out that I was getting less than half the earnings of my male colleagues.
Another reason I didn't know my place was that I asked to move my column to the comment pages. They offered a Monday slot so I had to work on Sundays.
As the only woman in the section and as a single mother, I asked her if they had ever heard of equal opportunities. No movement was possible.
The truth was, I never passed there.
Breaking off culture: Author J. K. Rowling (pictured) has also been publicly abused for her views on trans rights
I was in the office a bit at the time but never got my own desk and got bored hearing talk of cricket and people shouting the names of Oxbridge colleges I hadn't been to before. Telling you I went to a technical college was information some couldn't calculate.
Capricious, power-mad harpy that I was, however, was poached. I went to The Independent. It was great to work there. I loved it even though it was all to go
The relevance of it? That was my original sin. Nobody leaves the guard. I left the cult.
It was going to get worse. I joined the mail on Sunday (MoS). The big and the good told me again that I had made a terrible mistake and that I was going to lose my voice.
However, this new idea of speaking to floating voters has caught on. They are the ones that the left still despises while it has to win.
I can't say how much I despise it because I grew up in a working class household with Tory votes. Don't ask me to hate those whom I love in the name of socialism.
But now that I was in MoS, I was no longer in. The dark side had claimed me.
I lasted there for several years. I live in north london. When I moved to MoS, most of the people who had read me regularly on The Guardian or Indy thought I had just died. Actually, I had grown from a readership of 300,000 to two million. Some of us didn't need social media to know about bubbles. Some of us couldn't see a bubble without trying to burst. It's a class thing.
Suzanne (pictured) said she was inundated with threats in the aftermath
Eventually a new editor came to MoS and wanted changes. That was fair enough, so I got back on The Guardian.
Then in 2012 I contributed to a collection of essays edited by the great poet and journalist Cathy Galvin. My piece was about the need for female anger and it was called "Seeing Red".
Feminism had become way too polite and we went backwards. Fast. The essay was about how and why women should be angry.
The following year my essay was reprinted in the New Statesman. It contained this line: "We're mad at ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly, and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual."
That was wrong – so it was his time. Now it's a different body shape: the Kardashian Ribless T ** s and ass. But hey let's roll with the times.
Suddenly I was inundated with tweets about the murder rate by Brazilian "transsexuals", which is alarmingly high. Many are forced into sex work (I prefer the term prostitution, but the new feminism likes to pretend that all jobs are equal when clearly not. "Phoebe has four A-stars but hopes to be a sex worker") is not heard often.)
But it's true, I had carelessly used a certain sentence to talk about the fashionable shape for women at the time – although I hadn't killed anyone.
But the backlash that hit me was like nothing else. And I've been threatened for my columns by the fascist group Combat 18 in the past. . . I had panic buttons installed in my house. I got calls at home threatening them that they knew I had kids so they wouldn't kill me, just deactivate me.
This time the abuse was from the left; it was different and worse than anything that had come before.
Social media began to flex its muscles. Twitter was suddenly full of people telling me how they were going to rape, behead, or burn me.
The worst threats came from people who knew where I lived and said they were sexually abusing my then 11-year-old. The sewer opened, a torrent of misogyny pouring out. (Did this help trans people? Was it from them? Most of the time I don't think so.)
There was a new word. Terf. It presented itself as an acronym – trans-exclusive radical feminist – but it was used as a bow. In this row went. The label & # 39; Transphobe & # 39; might as well have been tattooed on my forehead.
Why did i speak I don't hate or fear trans-folk. As a feminist, I would argue that gender is socially constructed and can be reconstructed.
When I look back, I see that in the late eighties and early nineties I had already picked up something that bothered me. A rejection of feminine biology, our ability to name and define our experience.
A kind of gender tourism became possible. Anyone could be anything. A new kind of feminism emerged in which flesh and blood women and our desires got a little boring. Feminism without women!
I just believe there are bodies. But when trans ideology came into being, it meant questioning trans people's right to exist – how is that even possible? You obviously exist! – when we really asked how we think about gender and oppression and how complex it all is.
But somehow morality had entered the debate.
To be good, one mustn't question the new transorthodoxy. They said sex is no longer binary but a spectrum, and people don't have to change their bodies to claim a new identity. All of this was none of your business and had no effect on your life.
I disagreed. Until 2018 the atmosphere was toxic. A columnist at The Guardian replied to a message I sent about civility this Christmas: “You caused the worst transphobia for which you never apologized, you called Islamophobia a myth and you publicly abuse leftists. & # 39;
This person went on to say that I must feel insecure "because a new generation of younger leftists has captured the public mood".
I did not understand the charge of Islamophobia. In a broader sense, I understood that the possibility of a left government was exciting, but unlike halfway through The Guardian, I didn't think Corbyn had won the 2017 election. I also didn't like the macho, bullying culture around him that was sustained by some Guardian writers.
I complained about this person, but was told that nothing official could be done as none of us were employees. "Really?"
So there we are. Here comes the "new generation": the new left, just like the old left. Full of misogyny, complete pr *** and those with the emotional intelligence of pustules. Misogyny in the name of socialism. Once again.
At about this time I was in Armenia reporting on the selection of the fetal sex. Women aborted female fetuses because they wanted boys. In rural Armenia, I attended classrooms with 27 young boys and five girls while at home I was told that sex is simply “assigned at birth”.
This was a world far from people who believe sex is just a matter of personal choice.
At home, women were increasingly bothered by the idea of trans women with male genitals working in women's rooms. The predatory trans person idea isn't one I'm really particularly invested in. We are talking about a tiny percentage of a tiny percentage of the population. Toilets or changing rooms don't bother me that much. I spent my youth in gay clubs and with wonderful transsexuals who took care of me in New Orleans.
No, what I least like is the erasure of female bodies and female voices and female experiences. What interests me fundamentally is the right of women to meet in same-sex rooms and to assert themselves as a class – a class that is oppressed by a patriarchal system.
Feminism needs to be able to talk about bodies. Many of the advances women have made in my life – reproductive rights, more choice in childbirth, discussions about menstruation and menopause – depend on biology. The biology we have now been given was irrelevant.
The moral climate had shifted from "trans rights are something we have to discuss and we have to support trans people in every possible way" to a denial that such rights could at certain points compete with women's rights.
My friends were threatened and had no platform in schools and universities for questioning what had become a permanent set of beliefs. Women who said they faced threats of violence were asked to suck them up. Any discussion about trans rights had mutated into a rejection of the existence of trans people and thus into actual violence.
While I and many others received hideous threats, we were somehow responsible for the terrible violence that is perpetrated against trans people.
Social media blurred the conversation: Very few transsexuals are murdered in the UK (around one per year), but US statistics are worse so these are used.
In the US, trans health care is also not free. When American feminists tell us that we are "behind" on trans rights, it is a matter of concern.
Various people who weren't there to fight Section 28 – the 1998 ruling banning the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities – told us this was a repeat of that era, with trans-folk referring to pedophiles and predators were instead of gay men.
That is revisionism. No one was asked to give anything up so that Section 28 could be dropped.
Gays have chosen how to address them. In the transdebate, however, women were not consulted on their mandate. They are & # 39; Cis & # 39 ;. And & # 39; Cis & # 39; women rank higher than trans women. We had become the oppressors – a subset of men.
That brings us to March 2020. Finally, I had the privilege to write from a great editor how important it is for women to assert their fundamental rights.
Selina Todd, an Oxford professor of working class history, had been banned from an event for speaking out against Labor's trans policies. In relation to this incident, I found that it is women, never men, who lose jobs, incomes, and public platforms when they speak out.
I wrote that I believed that biological sex was real and that it was not transphobic to understand basic science.
The next thing I know is a lot of people on social media who thank me for saying what needs to be said. But the other lot – the “Die in a ditch, Terf” lot – told me to die in a ditch. Once again.
Seven years of this kind of abuse and nobody at The Guardian had ever spoken to me about it. I just kept going.
In my experience, I've been censored more by the left than the right, which I don't enjoy saying. Laziness of thought is my great fear, a thoughtless clinging to a simple orthodoxy.
Apparently I was being discussed at a "conference" that was open to all, the morning session of the newspaper – it looks like parity, but some people sit on the floor and others get seats – and it was reported that a trans woman who resigned a few weeks earlier resigned that morning because my words had made her unsure.
Then came the letter to editor Katharine Viner expressing dismay that The Guardian is a publication "hostile to trans rights and trans workers" because of three trans people in the past year apparently resigned.
That was news to me. Although I was not named in the letter, it was clearly a response to my column; 338 people have signed it. Nobody had the decency to call me.
Should The Guardian be a welcoming place for trans people to work? Yes, of course it should. Should it be a place to discuss complicated topics? Yes again.
The letter was then forwarded to the Buzzfeed news website and the signatories made public. I was devastated to find colleagues who I liked.
I've listed the names of my denunciators on Twitter. I wrote an emotional letter to the people I knew asking how they could do that.
I mistakenly thought my editors would stand up for me because that was my experience with other newspapers. You didn't do it.
For me it was utter cowardice. Shouldn't you stand by your writers? But on that issue, The Guardian is scared.
I suspect this is partly due to the newspaper's activities in the United States – where this is a highly charged topic.
As a feminist, I have limited interest in the current obsession with sexuality. Sorry, it's pretty boring.
I am with the French philosopher Foucault that I do not believe that sexuality is the essential soul or truth of an individual. My concern on this issue is only about women's rights and the well-being of children.
So much of the discussion has been about trans women, but the misery of teenage girls has to preoccupy us.
We've known since 2017 – earlier in fact – that there has been a huge surge in female teenagers trying to transition.
Those girls who have self-harm, eating disorders, or thoughts of suicide may be given hormones that block puberty and then have an operation. And for some, this may indeed be the right thing to do, and I respect the choices of the brave adults who go through this long, difficult process.
For others, however, this is clearly not the case. And to question that is not transphobic – it is to be taken care of.
My argument to my newspaper has always been that if we don't have this discussion, then the right will will, and indeed it was. Investigative journalism means going into no-go areas. Why can't we The liberal left does not look virtuous, it looks naive. There is no actual gender questioning. There is just a belief system.
For these thoughts I was raised alongside bigger and better people like J.K. Rowling.
Since my resignation, I've only received support from all sorts of people privately, including many at The Guardian who are now worried about their jobs. I didn't stop writing, I kept going.
It felt pretty schizophrenic, the split between the fundamental wave of women thinking along the same lines as me and the lack of support from the institution I worked for.
The censorship continues and I can't take it. Every day a different woman loses her job and a witch fire breaks out on Twitter.
My fear is not about trans people, but rather an ideology that means obliterating women – not just the word but our ability to name our experience. We are now "Cervix-Haver", "Parents giving birth", "Men who menstruate".
The left – well, I think the Labor Party, with its insane insistence on conformity – just stopped listening. When the Corbyn Project collapsed, the cultural struggle over transaction issues turned into a proxy war of insane proportions.
& # 39; Transphobe & # 39; was now a bow to throw at anyone who did not keep the faith.
In the meantime, it won't do anyone any good to alienate lifelong work-promoting women for refusing to sign what they believe to be their hard-won rights.
The consequences of this were severe in a difficult year. But the support was huge and I am grateful. I stay flame retardant.
All of this is just a little story about the shut up warning. And refuse. It's a little story about a woman who says no.
That's all it takes sometimes.
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