This is a running commentary on the above interview with Suzanne Moore, an award-winning columnist and journalist who won the 2019 Orwell Prize.
I understand that people raised with a golden spoon in the mouth have a harder time to have empathy with people less privileged. I do. However, this person interviewed here, says herself that she grew up poor. But so was the author of Harry Potter and she also doesn’t show that anymore. As an owning-class friend of mine says: When money comes into people’s lives, being too full of oneself follows almost as swiftly.
I also recognize that, while right-wing people often don’t have a clue what all these discussions about oppressions are all about, left-wing people tend to feel kind of superior to such ignorance, but then risk not checking their own personal attitudes and behavior concerning people socially weaker than them. That’s how we sometimes see right-wingers behave perfectly politely toward Jews, while anti-Semites get a lot of slack in certain left-wing settings (UK Labour). A superiority complex is a liability everywhere. (Not that right-wingers can’t wrestle with antipathy regarding Jews.)
But here we have it again, yet another British comfortable feminist left-wing cis-woman who insists that her view on gender is the only valid one.
She starts by saying that the issue is often misconstrued as two worldviews clashing while, in fact, there is only one view!!! That indeed sums it up. She does not recognize the aggression of invalidating the other narrative.
Unfortunately, it’s always shorter to say (oppressive) nonsense and lies than any analysis and correction that is truthful and real.
Let’s follow the line of the interview.
Prominently, she frames the situation — which seems typical — as women with her view being the ones who are under attack, are the true victims, and the ones not listened to. She — of course — doesn’t wonder if it could be the opposite, although statistics tell us that transwomen are among the most vulnerable people in the world, also in civilized societies today.
Then she says — matter-of-fact-like — that gender ‘of course is a social construct.’ In simple terms: it doesn’t really exist but we imagine it, to make more sense of our lives. When you feel that you have two legs, it’s biological, but when you feel a woman, it’s just a way we see the world, but that has no substance. She wouldn’t get away with saying that being Jewish is a social construct, or that race would be, but about trans, she, clearly, feels safe to say so. Which gives away not only her arrogance but also her broad ignorance on the issue. She especially doesn’t realize how rude she is or that she lacks a core empathy here. Again, being privileged comes with insensitivities to the suffering of others. That explains it, but it doesn’t justify it. We are all called upon to surpass our circumstances and prejudices and think, speak, and do better than what fate would dictate.
Asked if the criticism she gets from the left hurts more than from the right, she goes full Trumpian. You probably need to listen to it yourself to believe it. She rails against political correctness that dictates how to think.
To her surprise, the hurtful column that she wrote really wasn’t over when it was over. She cannot understand why her words should be retracted and never should have been written. It’s only words. She, obviously, would not say so about Mein Kampf, but it stays unclear why her words should be beyond scrutiny. Does she think she’s incapable of hurting people because she’s such a good-hearted person? The self-assuredness is hard to fathom.
She seems to hold that a (cis-)woman has the right to point out that something is sexist but that a trans-woman cannot point out transphobia. Again, it stays blurred why this particular group of people cannot be believed about how they feel, see, and describe their oppression. How similar to traditional psychiatry that disrespectfully decides what people are, leaving no say to the clients that it is supposed to serve. (She later reveals that she had studied being a therapist for two years. How fitting.)
She actually laughs, conveying ‘it’s ridiculous,’ when the interviewer brings up transwomen feeling ‘unsafe’ by her words. Is unsafe also a social construct? Is empathy only good toward her but unnecessary toward others? You would think that a feminist would value people feeling safe.
I find this particular embarrassing and shocking. Not less than laughing at Jews not feeling safe, at non-Whites not being safe, or at a child or a woman not feeling safe in a household.
Then she gets serious again and clarifies that she believes that people saying they feel unsafe must be listened to, but that’s when the un-safety comes from behavior, not from written words. But, many battered women find it hard to identify their abuse if it’s ‘only’ verbal. She should know.
She, as a writer, holds that words have no impact? Very strange, no? The old owning-class academic attitude that words are for entertainment and memorizing, devoid of emotions and consequences? I’m in the dark here.
But then she says it: A lot of art, like literature and movies, have sexist content that she thinks doesn’t need to be sanitized. Then she says half-laughing that if her words had power, she would be a witch. I think this is so offensive. Especially lesbians have been accused of and burned for being witches. I don’t think that such a flippant reference is proper.
Now she says that she never felt safe at her newspaper because she is working-class. But that wasn’t so important for her. And therefore, transwomen’s feelings of un-safety are unimportant too?
We know from statistical research that heterosexuals are less empathetic than homosexuals. Yet, most people can learn empathy. It’s no excuse.
Then she quotes someone who she describes as “a wonderful transsexual that I know.” Reminds me of people who say when accused of being anti-Jewish: “I have nothing against Jews. I have them under my best friends.”
Now we get it. When 338 workers at the newspaper signed a letter rejecting transphobia, she concludes that this was ‘obviously’ against her. You see, these people were not trying to create a safe trans-place, they had betrayed her. Why didn’t she sign the letter? If the shoe fits, wear it?
But then she says that no journalist should sign any letter because the only proper journalistic quality is being curious. She went from being against politically correctness to being valueless. It’s hard to follow from a lefty.
Then she plays down the letter because many of the signatures must be from nice people who love all people, who like transpeople and hamsters. I don’t make this up! And she doesn’t seem stupid, angry, or drunk.
But then she contradicts the un-seriousness of the letter by saying that she was not only offended. For her, it was proof she should quit the paper.
Then she adds her surprise why this should be any different from having a disagreement. When she wrote irritating left-wing things in a right-wing paper, she was always protected by the staff against angry reactions. But now here not. So, she is this detached intellectual for whom it is all a word game, left is exchangeable for right? This is deeply worrying to me.
A sermon by Osama Bin Laden was also printed and no one wrote a letter about it. Why was her piece the worst thing ever, she wonders. Well, if you nullify transoppression, it’s very hard to see it. She can’t make the jump that if it distresses (mostly cis-gender allies of transpeople), maybe it is hurtful. The issue is not if it is upsetting. The issue is that it’s oppressive.
Then she remarks that she got massive support from all kinds of people, writers. She implies that then she couldn’t have been wrong. Really?
But her supporters only complimented her privately while in public, she was unanimously trashed. I sense that she felt humiliated. (Honor is so important to the fake-proud.) And betrayed, as she mentioned.
I don’t know why she’s so shocked that ‘everyone’ disagrees with her. As a blogger, I’d be thrilled if the whole planet would differ with me. Besides double-checking if I didn’t make a mistake, I would be so happy to have brought a new viewpoint. BUT, I would be upset with myself if even one person claimed that I hurt them, made the world a worse place because of what I wrote. But, for her, like for Trump, it’s all a game of words. She’s above any consequences of her words. So should everyone else be. Really?
Now she enters classical transphobia myth creating. Reader beware.
“Really liberal” teachers, who have nothing against transpeople, are losing their jobs because they cannot accept that when a little boy wants to put on a dress, he’s taken to a clinic [to start the transitioning process]. This is, of course, not true at all. No one takes a small child anywhere. It’s absurd.
It gets worse. She knows a small but very powerful translobby institution.
So are the Elders of Zion.
The left is really scared to investigate them. And that leaves the field to the right-wing.
So, supporting trans-rights is a right-wing issue? It’s too bizarre to analyze.
She now reveals she got into some therapist course. “It interested me.” The French say it well: Those who excuse themselves, accuse themselves.
We hear the same kind of pseudo-liberal arguments from anti-Semites who complain that questioning the Holocaust is taboo. From racists who bewail that you can’t even bring up eugenics without being called a Nazi. From the ultra-right, complaining you can’t make fun of crippled people ‘anymore’ because then you are supposedly a monster. Utterly unaware.
That transpeople are killed is a statistic from America, she claims. In the UK, many more heterosexual women are murdered at home during COVID lockdown. For proportion. She just undermined her own sentence. If there are no statistics from the UK, how can you say it’s not so bad there? Handily, she omits trans suicide statistics, bewildering all over the world.
Now she suggests the ‘trans agenda’ to be an American plot put on the UK.
When ‘Jewish persons’ (they’re called Jews, by insiders) say ‘I don’t feel safe in Labour’ is for her the same as ‘a lot of’ women (a fringe amount, really) who don’t want a 19-year old who just transitioned in the lead. (She makes several references revealing a lack of respect for young people.)
Her bigotry is still left-wing because ‘not hurting transpeople’ ‘has become’ a ‘dogma.’ And left-wing is to be against dogmas (of others).
She sounds like White feminists, at first, upset when non-Whites wanted a place at the table. ‘Women’ is ‘her’ groups and anyone different from her (transwomen) should stay out. She came first. Actually, Jewish and Lesbian women arrived first. Lesbians would never have pushed feminism to its glory in the Sixties without Stonewall, which was carried by transwomen.
Now she says she’s ‘actually’ for political correctness because it’s just good manners, but… The whole first part was just an excuse to say what comes after the but. It’s polite to call people how they want to be called. But cis (the opposite of trans)? Who asked us if we want to be called cis? Well, no heterosexual asked to be called that. The oppressors’ awareness is always lagging behind and lacking an identity. No White person started out seeing themselves as such. No able-bodied person would call themselves that. They were ‘the normal’ ones and the others were ‘the strange ones.’
Now listen to her next twist. She names a new binary: people who don’t want to be called cis vs. the rest taken over by the translobby. And sure enough, the former are the oppressed. She has brains, but no wisdom.
Then she complains that this undoes the little progress that has been made over her lifetime in being open about periods and menopause, etc. Now the word ‘women’ has become oppressive. No, lady, it has not. What is oppressive is to reserve the word ‘women’ for cis-women and to reject and push away transwomen. Like a White woman claiming that Black women are not really women because they feel insecure around them and don’t share their experiences. So oppressive. Yes, oppressed people can be very oppressive, especially inside their oppressed group toward minorities.
She doesn’t feel threatened by a trans narrative but she says, it threatens feminism, and many women she knows lost their jobs over this. It’s like racists bewailing that they can’t say whatever they want anymore.
“These women are not horrible right-wing bigots, they’re on the left, but they can no longer speak.” Then she laughs in derision of the situation.
She now claims that, though men murder and rape transpeople (which she denied 5 minutes earlier), feminists are blamed for transpeople’s distress. The verbal abuse that Rowling received for her position shows that her critics are violent, just like the male rapists and murderers. Interestingly, at the beginning of the interview, she defended her freedom to say anything because just words cannot scare/scar. But, now words are directed against her misplaced liberalism, it’s serious abuse. Double standard alert!
The interviewer baits her with if she feels that the anti-trans are now the ones under attack, and she falls for it completely. She claims that she’s not against the small number of people over 18 who want to transition but we should investigate what is going on regarding younger people. So, she’s not anti-liberal but children need protection. No different from what any homophobe says to non-straights who want to live openly. As if anyone with gender dysphoria is hurried through transitioning. Not at all.
She is then asked how sexist her employer was in the beginning. But it’s no use because, somehow, her experience with oppression doesn’t translate into understanding what she needs to do where she is in an oppressor position and role. It’s like me thinking that Obama or Buttigieg would certainly understand anti-Semitism and Israeli Jews — but they didn’t.
She then also plays down generational differences because she always had young kids around. I think that it seems inconceivable to her that the fighters for their own freedom in the olden days would now be oppressors.
She portrays young people as liberal about trans rights but that she needs to awaken them that a tall transwoman is not fair in women’s sports or in a women’s jail. She really wants a transwoman to be with male prisoners?
She rejects the notion she has become more right-wing. She is an anarchist. And thus, an anti-Marxist. It would have been so easy to say to her: Look, you’re unhappy with the left-wing/right-wing binary system!
She mentions that in the past, she was part of a mutual ally-ship between women for abortion rights and gay men demanding AIDS research, but claims that now everyone is in their own bubble. Autobiographic!!
She deplores the lack of solidarity with her but is oblivious to her lack of solidarity with transpeople. It’s stunning and sad to hear and watch.
Again, she brings the strawman’s argument that some say that any debate is a form of violence. Nobody says so. But erasing the narrative of a whole minority, as she does at the start of the interview, yes, that’s violence.
She repeatedly has said that she’s portrayed as the most evil person in the world for her views. That’s an exaggeration to avoid saying: I was wrong. Nobody asks her to see herself as a monster. ‘I was wrong’ would suffice.
She is certain reconciliation is out of the question. For me, she belongs to the anti-democrats. They use the argument of democracy and freedom of speech to propagate that not all opinions or people are valid. Shutting them up is not undemocratic. It’s the protection of a free society. There is no place for freedom to hurt or propagate bigotry and violence. Papers that ban cigarette and ‘personal’ (sex) ads are not undemocratic either.
Again she portrays herself as the victim, of bullying. And she must be correct because no one wants to see themselves as a victim of bullying. Well, no one wants to see themselves as transgender but if one is, one is. And if she can’t make up that she’s the victim, how come transpeople are mistaken when they feel victimized by her writing? Double standard alert!
No matter how many people got upset with her, so many others enjoyed her unrestrained talk. So, she’s not stopping. I call it Trumpism. No longer is the value of what you say determined by if it’s right but by if it’s popular.
She closes off with that she will always stand up for women. Those whom she defines as women, of course. It’s all an exercise in egotism.
In her Twitter account, we find the essay: “Why I had to leave The Guardian, If you were bullied by 338 colleagues, what would you do?” For the connoisseur. It’s 7,000 words and reviewing it is prohibitive.
Her offensive column at the Guardian came after being attacked for being insensitive to transwomen for 7 years. She was no stranger to the issues.
What I saw in the interview, was a not so young, highly-intelligent woman, who has traveled and seen the world, and is rather full of herself. She’s not someone out to get transpeople but she can’t help herself because all her so-called feminism and liberalism only ever had to do with the normal her. She can’t and really doesn’t want to understand people much different from herself. She’s Marie-Antoinette replying “Let them eat cake,” not understanding why others then roll their eyes.
I ended up, if being upset, not at her. She really has no clue.
Why British? Wasn’t that the last Western country where homosexuality was a criminal act and gay marriage impossible? Wouldn’t that mean that the women’s movement there tolerated this terrible homophobia? Maybe British transphobia has deeper roots than one would think?
When explaining oppression, I always point out similarities with specifics of other oppressions. But here maybe even more than normally because her analysis so lacks seeing feminism interconnected to all liberations.
Anyway, though she paints herself as the underdog, make no mistake. She and Rowling have powerful platforms and can do tremendous damage.
Over the years, many parents of LGBTQIA+ come around because they basically love their children anyway. But, I see no antidote for this fringe group’s transphobia since the necessary love and caring are absent.
She knows how to talk but she doesn’t know how to listen to ‘others.’
I’m not optimistic here. May time prove me wrong.
And remember: It does get better, and living well is the best revenge.