Where Have All the Comments Gone?

In January there was a huge controversy over Suzanne Moore’s use of the phrase “Brazilian transsexual” in her New Statesman article “Seeing Red: The Power of Female Anger.” If you have clicked on the link to read Suzanne’s article you will notice something odd in the comments section – they are mostly about people complaining about those complaining about the article’s supposed transphobia, but none of those complaints are there. So where have all the comments gone? Has The New Statesman deleted the negative comments because of the fear of legal action or have trans activists decided that it would be wise to delete those comments?

When Jane Fae proclaimed in her eponymous article that “The Trans Community Has Finally Arrived,” she was making a case for this controversy (and a health campaign to which I will return) being a ground-breaking moment that united the trans community. Fae has form in proclaiming that something that happened a week ago is the ground-breaking moment, having previously given this praise to the reaction to the violent attack on a trans woman in a burger bar, again using the theme that the trans community said “enough.”

In this more recent claim to a defining trans moment, Fae uses another theme that might explain why activists might have deleted (or welcomed the deletion of) their posts. That theme is the claim the whole controversy was not the responsibility of trans people, but provoked by a non-trans person on Twitter. That theme is actually thrown in criticism at Fae in her article on online bullying, “Misogyny, Intimidation, Silencing – The Realities of Online Bullying.” The commenter, Pollik, claims that it was Suzanne who hurled the first Twitter abuse, ignoring the fact that she has just quoted Jane complaining about the online abuse, i.e., not limited to Twitter. She also ignores her own rant a week earlier about the “lazy journalism” behind an article on the controversy in The Week, where she noted that a few had expressed their offence before the Twitter fall-out. Those few would include the many comments from trans people that have since disappeared from the “Seeing Red” article.

When Moore’s article was posted I read it quite early and the third comment I read was from a trans woman complaining that it was appalling to use the phrase “Brazilian transsexual” given the number of Brazilian trans women murdered in the past year. That comment has been deleted along with several similar ones and the only remaining comment self-identified as from a trans person is from Miss Madrigal writing in support of Moore. So have the deletions been made by over-zealous moderation by The New Statesman or by the commenters? I suspect that it is primarily site moderation as one commenter complains about some of her posts being removed, but the deletions serve a purpose for a defensive trans community, namely to “prove” the theme of the first complaint against Suzanne being made by a non-trans woman.

So why is the trans activist community so defensive? Partly it is because many trans activists have been appalled at the hatred unleashed against Moore, even Jane changed her stance, complaining on her own blog about the attempts to threaten Suzanne’s safety. Another major reason for this disquiet is that the day Moore’s hounding began on the New Statesman site and on Twitter came at a most unfortunate moment for the trans community. It occurred just as these activists were building up a Twitter based campaign on trans mistreatment by the medical professions under the hashtag #transdocfail. This worthy campaign was completely overshadowed by the online bullying of Moore and while the debates over two words, “Brazilian transsexual,” dominated the media, there was little publicity gained for the health campaign, other than when it was raised by trans representatives interviewed about the bullying.

The article that sparked the anger was subtitled “The power of female anger,” but anger provoked by a misunderstanding of just two words destroyed a worthwhile campaign. Hopefully, the lesson will be absorbed by the trans community that activism is a dish best served cool. It is also to be hoped that Suzanne Moore’s article can now get the credit it deserves, although she may no longer think that seeing red is so hot.

© Mercia McMahon 2013