Like many other women of my generation I owe Germaine Greer a great debt. She put a lot of my life into context and helped me to understand my experiences. I’m referring of course to ‘The Female Eunuch’ but also to other books, including one on female artists. I’ve always held her in high esteem – but lately I’m starting to think she’s gone off on one – and I especially take issue with her comments on transgender women -‘Just because you lop off your d**k doesn’t make you a **** woman:
I find these comments unhelpful, to say the least – and far from a positive contribution to the debate. But that does not mean we shouldn’t have a debate in the first place. I would suggest that with transgender issues we are at the same stage now, as a society, as we were in the early ’70’s with homosexuality. It is not now appropriate to ask someone why or how they came to be gay (though you could ask when they first knew) because these things are generally understood and accepted. We are not at the same stage with transgender people. Many in society are baffled and confused by what appears to be an explosion in transitioning: many people (myself included) have no idea why this is happening, what it means or where it comes from. And so we need debate: because without debate or questioning, there is no understanding. But here’s the problem: the party line on this is that we should not question, but accept, because the very act of questioning is construed by some as an attack on their right to exist.
Just the other day I got into a dialogue on Facebook about whether Germaine Greer should be allowed to address an International Women’s Day event in Brighton. http://www.brightonandhovenews.org/2017/02/08/activists-call-for-germaine-greer-appearance-at-international-womens-day-event-to-be-shelved/
There are calls for her appearance to be cancelled, which seems to indicate that remarks by a person on a previous occasion, whether or not they are likely to be repeated at the event in question, can cause people to block them. And I have a problem with this. Hence the dialogue on Facebook, where f-to-m trans person was arguing very forcefully that Greer should not be allowed to speak, claiming that her remarks have been the cause of suicide in children before now. This seemed a bit of a stretch to me (not to mention being hard to prove), and so I was arguing in a very restrained way that freedom of speech is important and that I am uneasy about restricting people on the basis of previous remarks. My arguments were met with a barrage of anger, swearing and vitriol which eventually turned personal, whereupon I commented that I had tried to argue respectfully but was now leaving. I was then told that my attempt to be respectful had failed – presumably because the very act of questioning is in itself disrespectful. So here’s the thing – under those rules we stand on very unequal ground, because my interlocutor made no attempt whatsoever to address me respectfully.
It’s clear to me that people should not be given a platform to spout racism, sexism or any other prejudice: in any case, we have laws about that sort of thing. But should a person be refused a platform because they have previously (even if it was only once) stated hateful opinions? There’s a fine line here and I’m very uneasy about this. On the one hand, I know hate speech has an effect on people because we can clearly see the rise in hate crimes since Trump and Brexit – but should the same apply to someone who has expressed certain views on trans people but is giving a talk on a completely different topic?
To be honest I can see both arguments on both sides. But what I don’t like is being harangued because I have the temerity to disagree with a transgender person on this. I have every right to disagree – and every right to be accorded respect, no matter how repellent they find my views.
If you have views on this I’d like to hear them.