Julie Burchill

I knew I was right...

I knew I was right...
Text settings

Time flies when you’re being shunned! A whole five years have passed since a piece I wrote about male to female transsexuals (typically temperate sample: ‘A bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs’) was published by the Observer – and then pulled. And what a lot of water has flown under the bridge - under the bed, even - since then. It has now become a fashionable political cause, one taken up by both Mumsnet and the Guardian – thanks in part to Jeremy Corbyn's brosocialist Labour Party and its decision to allow trans-women onto all-women shortlists.

But it wasn’t always the case. I was one of the first feminists in this country to talk about the trans lobby, and for my trouble I got reported to the police, denounced by politicians and blacklisted by liberal broadsheets. But rather than feel regret, the subsequent series of unfortunate events have made me certain I acted correctly; I knew I was right, as the title of my autobiography had it. And on this anniversary - ‘tranniversary’, even - I’d like to look back in languor at what’s occurred since that fateful day.

In an essay she wrote in 2012 on the subject of female anger, the lifelong feminist socialist (and my compadre of two decades) Suzanne Moore opined that one of the multi-tasks modern women are called upon to perform is to have ‘the body shape of a "Brazilian transsexual”’ - that is, to be skinny but paradoxically with a big bum and bouncing breasts, like an oven-ready porn star. It’s typical of the self-obsessed, cloth-eared Cry-Bully aspect of the trans-lobby that they completely ignored the main thrust of this excellent essay about the eternal war on women and instead fastened on a throwaway line about a fictional archetype.

In a move which has become familiar since then, Miss Moore was monstered for her comments. And while she is no shrinking violet, she was so overwhelmed by the level of violent threats that she left Twitter. I realise that this is a first-world problem and not even one I suffer from as I’m not on it, but I was pleased with my response at the time: ‘Though I imagine a Twitter ‘attack’ to be something akin to being savaged by a dead sheep, as Denis Healey had it of Geoffrey Howe, I nevertheless feel indignant that a woman of such style and substance should be driven from her chosen mode of time-wasting by a bunch of dicks in chicks clothing.’

It might have ended there - but several of my Facebook friends who were rustling their popcorn were from the Observer, the broadsheet which I then often worked for, which emailed me to ask if I would turn my bouquet of barbs into a piece for that Sunday’s paper; I was on my way out and said that, all things considered, my thoughts were best left to social media rather than organs of gravitas - but they were flattering, and doubled my rate, so what is a grasping, grudge-settling girl to do?

The Observer knew what it was getting; the commissioning editor already seen the best (i.e the bitchiest) bits on Facebook and commissioned it anyway. So imagine my sophomoric surprise that Sunday when instead of publishing and being bravely damned, this bastion of free speech had backtracked under fire with all the slipperiness of a snake performing in a figure-skating contest by Monday morning. My column was published, and then pulled from the website. (The Daily Telegraph was bold enough to re-publish it.)

The Lib-Dem MP Lynne Featherstone - then Minister for International Development,  now cooling her heels in the Lords after having to return £22,000 worth of Parliamentary stationery and losing her seat to Labour - accused me of ‘inciting hatred’ and said that the editor of the Observer, John Mulholland, should be sacked. I must say that I came to agree with this comment, though not for the same reason, when after apologising to fuming fussbudgets everywhere, Mulholland pulled the column from the website and never employed me again. Lucky I’m rich!

With hindsight, the Observer’s action was a capitulation to a pressure group whose demands have become ever more unreasonable ever since. Up till this point, my only experience of the trans-lobby was hearing about the vile way they’d persecuted one of my friends, the veteran women’s rights and anti-domestic violence activist Julie Bindel, picketing events where she was speaking about such minor issues as the rape of children and the trafficking of women just because she refuses to accept that their relationship with their phantom limb is the most pressing problem that women – real and imagined – are facing.

Interestingly, Miss Bindel is a lesbian and it was striking that while I was being accused of being a bigot, my most valiant defenders were gay people, many of whom had experienced within their own political groups the scenery-eating drama transsgender people can cause. One lesbian acquaintance went so far as to point out that for centuries women have been accused of being slaves to their hormones - many women themselves, while bridling at this, do like to make a right old song and dance over PMT - so is it really unreasonable to suggest that the industrial qualities of artificial hormones which are vital to male-to-female transition might make the lucky recipients a little, um, excitable? The excellent Janice Turner - no one’s idea of a TERF - wrote a piece in The Times last week with the headline 'Trans activists think debate is hate speech'  and that just about sums up their uniquely narrow-minded mind-set.

I can’t help thinking about Martina Big, who was born Caucasian but always wanted to be black and, through her own ingenuity with tanning injections and her own powerful 50-tube sunbed, appeared to be living the dream in the Daily Mail recently. I’m not convinced that race is mutable, but Miss Big says ‘I am black - that is my race. I can't wait to go to Africa. It's better to be black, the feeling inside is just better.'  She’s received a lot of grief for her metamorphosis, and considering the great historical injustices white people have inflicted on black people, I can see why. But as with the case of Rachel Dolezal, I really am at a loss as to why it is considered perfectly acceptable for a man to claim he can become a woman but not for a white person to claim they can become black. Rather touchingly, Miss Big says she is only ’80 percent black’ as she still has ‘a lot to learn.’

If only the trans-lobby had an iota of self-knowledge and respect towards women who have come by their consciousness through the long hard slog of growing up female rather than by the skill of the surgeon’s knife. And if only the likes of Mumsnet and the Guardian - who are belatedly taking on the trans-lobby - had had the nerve to be feminists five years ago.