Trans people suffer whenever trans issues get media attention. Jenni Murray’s transphobia and the reaction to it shows how.
Murray’s Sunday Times article in 2017, whose text I found through this search, affected sweet reasonableness, but expressed distaste for trans women. The headline is chosen by a subeditor- “Don’t call yourself a real woman”. Her claim to be accepting is based on small grounds- “I firmly believe transsexuals and transvestites (sic) …should be treated with respect and protected from the bullying and violence”. She criticises some of the more extreme transphobic language. But then she says people calling for the no-platforming of Julie Bindel show “repulsive misogyny”. Julie Bindel has shown appalling transphobia.
She says the Rev. Carol Stone is “a man [who] claimed to have become a woman”. She felt angry because when she met Carol she told her her concerns were whether to wear makeup, rather than sexism among male priests. Carol has made it easier for women and queers to be priests, but all Murray says about this is that Carol was concerned about what to wear. Similarly India Willoughby did not object to female staff at the Dorchester Hotel being told to shave their legs and wear makeup.
The demand that trans women should be feminist is transphobic. I am feminist, and I feel everybody should be feminist, but many people aren’t. Murray uses the fact that two trans women have said some unfeminist things to attack all trans women. Then she says what matters is female socialisation from birth, and minimises trans women’s difficulties: we “simply decide to take hormones and maybe have surgery and ‘become a woman’.” She quotes an older trans woman saying she is “not a real woman” and why she is read as a man, and a self-hating transwoman- “a ‘woman’ after my own heart”- and an anti-trans campaigner saying their usual transphobe lines.
What do you emphasise of a trans woman’s journey? She gives Jenny’s male name, says she felt drawn to wear her wife’s clothes in secret, she transitioned, her wife divorced her, she opened a feminist bookshop. Murray gives unpleasant details about anatomy.
The whole is distaste and disbelief, emphasis on anything to discount or discredit our womanhood, and a few expressions of grudging tolerance. It is the transphobia of a third of the population, the kind of distaste which can coexist with politeness and imagines itself tolerant, but it is more than that as Murray has chosen to write a long article for a transphobic paper. It is designed to spread at least such intolerance, possibly worse.
No-one could read the article and be better informed. Jenny Murray does not like trans women, and writes of trans women she dislikes and aspects of trans experience commonly used to deny we are women.
Murray faced some criticism. Stonewall published a blog post the same day, by its Executive Director of Campaigns and Strategy, who is trans, saying trans is about our innate sense of self and we have a right to have our identity and experiences respected. Then lots of dullards wrote their tuppenceworth on the matter, to get clicks. The Herald on Sunday, in a general interview the following week, failed to get Murray to say anything further but still started by summarising the juicy bits from her Sunday Times article, putting in a picture of India Willoughby.
A self-hating transwoman got her ungrammatical tweet published in The Guardian merely because she agreed with Murray. She has notoriety and a platform because, though everything she writes is badly expressed and derivative, she is a transwoman who supports transphobes. The BBC said “we have reminded [Murray] that presenters should remain impartial on controversial topics covered by their BBC programmes,” and that set off another round of pearl-clutching.
A year later, Murray was going to speak at an Oxford University event called “Powerful British women in history and society”. The student LGBTQ campaign objected, saying “The decision to offer her a platform is not apolitical or neutral, especially when her views cause tangible harm to vulnerable members of our society.” She pulled out. Murray did not comment, but the BBC quoted her as previously saying she was “not transphobic”. The usual suspects got all outraged about The Threat to Free Speech.
And now Murray is retiring from Woman’s Hour and The Guardian’s retrospective of her career brings up the “controversy” about her article. What do we get from that paragraph? Twice the phrase “real women” in scare quotes. A quote from Murray about “the most vicious, vulgar and threatening debate of our day”. Then these words:
The response was swift, with the campaigns director of Stonewall condemning her views as hurtful. She was then forced to pull out of an Oxford University talk following a backlash over her comments.
That is, reading this article you get the impression that Murray suffered because she commented about trans women. What happened is that Murray incited that “decent, ordinary” flavour of transphobia which encourages the extremist transphobes. Then there were endless articles, casually or shockingly transphobic, seeking clicks from controversy or outrage, and dull little twitterspats. Phobes were encouraged. Trans women were bullied and hurt.
8 November 2020: Murray was interviewed in The Times, and quoted saying nasty things about trans women, mainly from a position of ignorance, lack of interest, and disdain. It’s as before, common transphobia with only a little of the insane hatred of the driven anti-trans campaigners.
She complained of threats following her 2017 article, of rape and murder. They are revolting. However, I do not make such threats. Please do not use them against me and my rights. Then she calls trans women “men in skirts”. “She is confident that 99.9% of the Woman’s Hour audience agrees with her.” Well, people with vile opinions tend to think others agree, it’s how they live with themselves. It’s like “I’m not racist but”. I find a lot of acceptance. Then she claimed “I knew more about [the Gender Recognition Act] than anyone else”. She thought young women being trans allies, which refutes her 99.9% figure, “bizarre”. She said “Who would want to choose to be an often unattractive middle aged woman when they don’t have to be?… it all seems a bit odd to me.” She normalises incomprehension and disdain. When encouraged by transphobe outlets like The Times, Murray will pop up from time to time, spouting transphobia.
11 May 2022: Murray now has a column in the Daily Mail, where she wrote that “woman” means “adult biological female”- so, not people with variations in sex characteristics– and only women menstruate or give birth, so trans men don’t, or don’t exist, or something she does not spell out. There’s a war on women, she says, mentioning abortion in the US- I agree- but she gives as much space to quibbling about trans people as to abortion.