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No, Not Moore Transphobia

It was in January 2013 that Sarah Brown (trans equality campaigner and the only out transgendered elected politician in Britain) suggested that

We need a hash tag for crap trans medical treatment. How about #TransDocFail ?

This took off in the way these things do on Twitter, and you can follow #TransDocFail for heartbreaking and infuriating stories of the NHS failing people in need because of their gender identity. (Zoe O'Connell collated the "lowlights", Charlie Hallam wrote for the New Statesman: As the #transdocfail hashtag showed, many trans people are afraid of their doctors, and Kirsty Hough wrote about the Twitter trend for healthcare professionals on Commissioning.GP)

Make no mistake: being transgendered is real. When the gender identity you were assigned on your birth certificate does not match the gender you know yourself to be, the result is a medically-recognised problem known as gender dysphoria. The treatment for gender dysphoria is one way very simple: for the person misgendered to live as the gender they know themselves to be.

(If we didn't make such a culturally ordained fuss over a child's gender at an age when that can make no possible difference to anyone, perhaps being transgendered would not have so much dysphoria associated with it.)

In a medical sense, though, treatment for gender dysphoria can include surgery and hormones - neither of which are simple, and which ought not to be provided without proper protocols and care. But neither should either surgery or hormones, or the need for them, be unreasonably denied to someone who will not be able to live a healthy, normal life without that treatment.

Update: BBC Cambridgeshire Discusses #TransDocFail with Sarah Brown and Christine Burns.

Research carried out by the Scottish Transgender Alliance in 2009 determined that a trans person's quality of life, assessed by standard UN measurements, will generally be low pre-transition, get better while transitioning - despite the significant impact of surgery and hormones - and be greatly improved after transition.

Today, Suzanne Moore had a mostly-great essay published in the New Statesman. (Her first there since she resigned from NS in 2009.) Whether or not you support the New Statesman's politics, Moore - who has written brilliantly for such diverse media as the Daily Mail and Guardian - wrote with verve and vim about the power of women's anger from Liverpool to Liberia:

Those hazard lights should be flashing: women can’t be wooed to vote by being shown the nice handbag of a politician’s wife. I see my daughters’ generation written off as pretty much everything I took for granted is being systematically stripped away from them. Jobs, housing, free education. The expectation that these young women would have the same choice or more even than their mothers is being shattered. They have less. This is why so many of us are seeing red. The signs flicker all around, whichever side of the political divide we are on. We see red, not as a mist but clear and scarlet. Cherish it, for this is how the future will be made.

This is all great stuff, but in the middle of a paragraph towards the end there is one line that stands out:

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.

This might have been phrased better. On the last Transgender Day of Remembrance, out of the 265 reported cases of murdered trans people between 15th November 2011 and 14th November 2012, 126 of them were from Brazil.

One of the last reports from Brazil for last year's TDoR was as simple as it was horrifying:

Transgender Day of Remembrance - transgriot

A 39 year old trans person was stoned to death in the city of Aracaju, Brazil.

The 39 year-old was well known and liked, known locally as ‘Madona’, died from her wounds earlier this week, after she was attacked by an unknown group of people with cobblestones.

Madonna ... received mortal blows and was admitted to a hospital in Aracaju, the capital of the state of Sergipe, Brazil, in the early hours of Friday last week. She died four days later from severe head injuries.

Why would Suzanne Moore have picked on "Brazilian transsexual" as an example of the kind of cosmetically-shaped female body she was talking about?

"because I deliberately used the word Brazilian transsexual as ideal shape small hips and big T and A."

Because trans people from Brazil are more likely to need to seek asylum in countries where trans people are not killed on the street by transphobic bigots who know they can. The "Brazilian transsexual" stereotype was available to Suzanne Moore because of trans women from Brazil seeking refuge from violence and murder: meeting discrimination in Europe, but less often being simply killed.

Keila Simpson (president of the National Counsel to Combat Discrimination of the Secretary of Human Rights to the President of Brazil) told Gay Star News after Madona's murder:

‘The situation in Brazil is very different from any other part of the world.

‘Trans people are the smallest and most vulnerable part of the LGBT Brazilian communities, making up a mere tenth, yet we suffer from the highest incidence of violence and murder.

‘Since January we have had over 100 transgender people murdered here – that means over 10 people murdered every month. ‘The violence is the principle reason why so many Brazilian trans people immigrate abroad, principally to Europe. .....

‘Only yesterday I spoke with a trans friend who lives in Spain and she told me: “Here people don’t get murdered in the street because they are trans, I’ll never go back to Brazil.”

‘So this why so many of us are forced to leave Brazil, we can be assassinated at any point simply walking in the street, it is not economic migration.

‘I will not be surprised if we will see soon demands for asylum in Europe by Brazilian trans people fleeing violence at home.’

It would be unreasonable to expect Suzanne Moore to be as aware of this as a trans woman would be. But given her essay celebrates the power of outspoken female anger, understanding how it feels to have someone lecture you on matters within your own lived experience and not theirs:

I sat silent, waiting to be asked my views, as I am one. A scarlet flush was spreading across my chest. This was far from post-coital colour. My blood was rising. The anger could not be swallowed.

to react to this anger that cannot be swallowed with arguments that trans people are "not oppressed", that this is about those who want to "police" language, and other distinctly more unpleasant comments, seems not to understand the power of angry women Moore herself invoked.

It is better, always, for people intersectionally oppressed to stick together. But the way to do that is surely that when in passing an unfortunate comment is made, to apologise for it promptly rather than angrily insist that people who object to it are just "policing language".

Follow-up articles to read:

On Friday 11th January, Suzanne Moore tweeted: "Bye guys its been real X" and with that seems to have formally flounced off Twitter.

Fortunately, times are changing. At the time of the Russell Reid inquiry [2007], trans people were a group that was talked about by other people. Nowadays, we have got our own voices, thank you very much.

On Sunday morning, the print edition of the Observer and the Guardian Online website published a column by Julie Burchill, which was the subject of so many complaints that by the end of the day it became the subject of an inquiry by the Observer readers' editor, who said on the comments thread:

"As you might imagine, I have received many emails protesting about this piece this morning. Thank you to those who have written. I will be looking at this issue and will be replying to all in due course."

Trans Media Watch have also responded: 'Hate speech has no place in a national newspaper'.

On Monday 14th January at 17.48, John Mulholland, editor of The Observer, withdrew Julie Burchill's comment piece and apologised.

The Observer is a paper which prides itself on ventilating difficult debates and airing challenging views. On this occasion we got it wrong and in light of the hurt and offence caused I apologise and have made the decision to withdraw the piece. The Observer Readers' Editor will report on these issues at greater length.

In his blog at the Telegraph, Toby Young called the decision a "disgrace" and, with Julie Burchill's permission, reblogged the comment piece in full.

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