Binders Full of Women* (*Includes Trans, Intersex & Gender Neutral Folk. Does Not Include Julie Burchill)

When Binders was conceived, we put a notice out on Facebook asking for poems from those “who identify as women or trans.” Pretty smart, we thought.

But before we kissed our own intersectional asses with pride, we were called up, and asked what our position was on those who identified as gender neutral. Suddenly we felt, well, a bit daft. We were meant to be challenging patriarchy, not re-inforcing gender binary. We thanked our friend for alerting us to this, and rectified the remit to “poets who identify as women or trans/intersex/gender-neutral.”

We share this story not to illustrate how great we are, but rather, as an example how it should work. You say or do something non inclusive, somebody points this out, you correct it. Everybody concerned has learnt something new and moves on.

Except in the world of the privileged hack, it would seem, where this happens instead. Hack 1 says something stupid in a piece that otherwise invites us to consider how to channel feminist rage. Hack 1 is called up about this on Twitter. Instead of making amends, Hack 1 loses rag. Then, in Hack 1’s defence, Hack 2 decides to write a piece that is far more dangerous than stupid.

Which is how we ended up with a piece that pitted Hack 1’s “style and substance” against the trans community, or as Burchill so offensively put it, “a bunch of dicks in chick’s clothing.”

Now. We’re all for sisterhood at Binders Towers. We happen to think that solidarity is crucial to the progression of the feminist movement. Had this article been “please don’t attack my friend, she’s a good person who has written extensively on and for feminism” then we would be in a very different situation. Disagreement would occur, but not disgust.

Instead, Burchill decided to pit the trans community against working class feminists. Even typing that out seems at the very height of ludicrous, and if you didn’t know how poisonous the response was, you could be forgiven for laughing out loud at it. How? What on earth could be the connection? Has there been a trans army bomb blast on Sure Start centres? Has the trans community raided the national treasure chest so national services and welfare must be slashed? No, that’s another group entirely. But instead of using her privilege to attack the genuine oppressor, Burchill chooses instead to launch a tirade of abuse against the non cisgendered, as if all the social disease that comes from patriarchy is actually their fault.

Burchill accuses the trans community of having “endless decades in academia, it’s all most of them are fit to do” and then make the even more bizarre claim that they are “educated beyond all common sense and honesty.” Hands up all those who remember the crowd of trans lecturers at their university? No, us neither. Or the student group. Or the trans teenager in class who never stopped swatting up. No, because in all reality, the trans kid was far more likely to not even want to face school due to vicious bullying and peer pressure.

Her comments are especially divisive because they silence people who have worked hard to be articulate and thoughtful, as if to say, “Yeah but you can’t criticise me, you learnt that shit from books or at university, not in Real Life.” Well, some trans, intersex and gender-neutral folk, like some feminists (including working-class feminists and feminists of colour), have found that critical theory (whether read at uni or not) gives them ways and means of analysing oppression and developing resistance – including to academia’s and the media’s sexism, classism, racism and transphobia.

Burchill deliberately belittles those trans folk and feminists who, having struggled to be heard in, and change, our critical and media culture and education system despite bullying, exclusion and harassment, might be most likely not only to speak out against her, but to mentor, inform and support young trans people as educators, or might be building portfolios to be heard in the media. The Burchills of this world begin on the playground and see what kind of an audience they can get, as all too many a trans person will be aware of.

There is also the competing victimhood factor: that somehow dominant culture has made “victim” an exalted (but not empowered) status. So rather than step up and say “Yes, I have privilege as a cisgendered white woman who, through educational means, has shifted class identity and I take responsibility for sharing and extending that privilege to those struggling with oppression,” Burchill has instead reacted in the classic primary school tone of, “No, I won’t share! No, it’s mine!” Even though what she is claiming isn’t actual power, but the toys thrown down by dominant culture.

We could tear apart each paragraph of the piece, but one of the most heinous, repulsive points has to be when she attempts to speak for working class women by saying: “We have no family money, no safety net. And we are damned if we are going to be accused of being privileged by a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs.” It is precisely the same kind of vitriol that the right wing use to attack those on benefits. It incites hate rather than debate. We are both horrified and ashamed that a writer who claims to be both feminist and working class has reduced trans people to tears with her mean and utterly erroneous pieces of toxic waste that are supposed to be the words of a journalist.

We are proud to be part of a sisterhood that refuses to be divided by such intentionally manipulative shit-stirring: proud to be responding alongside self-defined “poor Puerto Rican trans girl” blogger Quinnae Moongazer, TransMediaWatch-ing DIVA columnist and META editor Paris Lees,  Heidegger-quoting academic and fantasy writer Roz Kaveney, and football-loving, Modernist fiction-loving journalist Juliet Jacques (the latter three all past Guardian contributors and evidence Guardian Media Group do, and should, know better). We’re excited to see so many feminist and leftist writers and activists, via Twitter, Facebook and the media, calling out Burchill for transphobia, phoney class war, and anti-feminism. Inspired by Tobold Rollo writing about the racist journalists disparaging the Canadian First Nations’ movement Idle No More, we also believe that:

some writers possess a special kind of superhuman resolve which enables them to resist the temptations of prudence and generosity in the face of social change. At least for a while.

Almost inevitably, as the distance between an historic event and the present grows, the journalist will look back with ill-conceived regret at the courageous stance he or she once took against a movement. Perhaps weakened by the passage of time, or crippled by some experience-induced “moral” awakening, these once charmingly cantankerous columnists experience what physicians call “a change of heart”.

We hope that the trans community will take Burchill for what she is, a fake, a phoney, whose need for the oxygen of publicity will lead her to that “change of heart” when the time is right and trans acceptance has been achieved through the hard work of the people she slanders, trans activists and their allies. She doesn’t speak for us. Not in our name.

This was written and posted by the editors of Binders Full of Women, Sarah Crewe and Sophie Mayer.

About So Mayer

Poet, editor, educator.
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