On Friday 5th December 2008 I was upset to be going home early from my Manchester University lecture, not upset that I was getting an early weekend, but upset because I had declined to attend a public lecture because I had to be in a course lecture. The public lecture that I missed was a debate between prominent trans academic Susan Stryker and feminist journalist Julie Bindel. The lecture had been set up by the well-known trans right campaigner Stephen Whittle, by then in his current role as Professor of Equality Law, at Manchester Metropolitan University. He was trying to take some heat out of a debate that had culminated a month earlier in what may have been the first trans protest inspired by social media, when trans activists from around England gathered outside the Stonewall Awards to protest against the nomination of Bindel as Journalist of the Year (the award was won by Miriam Stoppard).
This protest from five years ago continues to reverberate across social media and the same platform (Facebook) that was an organising point for the protest has resulted in Bindel withdrawing in recent days from another debate in Manchester. On this occasion, she was to speak on the topic of porn and violence against women, but not for the first time in the last five years trans activists have sought to render her life a misery by trying to prevent her from speaking on any topic. This latest campaign was in response to her being invited to give a speech to a university debating society on her main topic of interest, violence against women, an interest driven by her personal involvement in the tragic case of Emma Humphreys. Yet to listen to those activists you would think that Bindel does nothing but write articles against transsexuals. She did write an offensively phrased article back in 2004, but even that was inspired by the issue of violence against women: the impetus for her unfortunate article was anger at a Canadian transsexual taking a rape crisis centre to a human rights tribunal for refusing to train her as a counsellor. Subsequently, The Guardian and Bindel apologised for the tone of the article.
So students in Manchester University are complaining about an article written by Bindel nine years ago, when many of them were still children. They threw the epithet of transphobe against her in 2013, even though she apologised for her language in 2004. Indeed, some of these young activists continue to say (as they did five years ago) – “This remains an issue because she has never apologised.” The reality is that Bindel got bored apologising to a community that keeps producing new generations of young guns who do not want to hear that apology.
Where does this constant desire to bait and ban Bindel come from? In part it comes from a simplistic view that because Bindel’s 2004 article is still online it represents her views. The choice as to whether it appears lies with The Guardian, not with her. More to the point, the 2004 apology, and subsequent ones, can also be found online, so are they not also her views? What is really going on is the realisation that prominent journalists are not as transphobic as a lot of wannabe activists would like.
The constant return to harass Bindel (or Janice Raymond or Germaine Greer) based on pieces written a long time ago shows just how non-transphobic the publishing world is. The focus on long-ago texts is because there is not a steady stream of targets at which to take aim, so historical offences have to be dug up again and again. I had hoped that Bindel was now to be spared this treatment because Julie Burchill’s 2013 Observer article was so offensive that it was removed from The Guardian website (which hosts the online material for The Observer) and replaced with an apology. Bindel is targeted because she can be (she remains an active campaigner) and because she once transgressed, in the days before many of these young guns hit secondary education.
It is long past the time for trans activists to stop trying to build a reputation by attacking Bindel. Maybe these bright young things at one the country’s top universities could come up with a radical proposal. Given the intellectual standard of the anti-Bindel comments on the debate’s Facebook page, I doubt that they are capable of any such thing, so I will help them out. Go out and achieve something for trans people, that will truly establish your activist reputation.
While a Manchester University student, I forced the National Insurance Contributions Headquarters to stop putting blocks on transsexuals’ accounts without their informed consent. Now anyone submitting a legal change of name that appears to be a change of gender identity will have an immediate block placed (a concession I offered to them), but a letter informs them of the block and how to request its removal. It just took one well argued letter (and a supporting letter from the local MP) and I won a major human right for transsexuals. As my successors as Manchester University students, please go forth and do likewise.
© Mercia McMahon 2013