Jenni Murray

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.

Naomi Hersi

Content: murder. Who was Naomi Hersi?

Naomi Hersi was a woman. The photo on that page shows her Black, smiling, beautiful, vibrant. It’s a good photo. She lived in Mill Hill, North West London.

You can read about her brutal murder, that she was “openly transgender”, what her “legal name” (that is, male name) was. You can read the words of her murderer given in evidence at his trial: “I felt open-minded, liberal-minded”. All sorts of details. Here you can read about her dead body. She was in no position to respond to her killer’s attack. Ms Hersi’s family described her as a “sweet and trusting” person who was “funny and carefree”. “Our lives will never be the same. The grief has swallowed us up. It’s consumed us. Maybe one day it will not be so painful but the violence of [the] death haunts us,” her father said. Did the BBC use “[the]” to cover up “his”? I don’t know.

This article, on the woman who tried to help her killer evade justice, and got a suspended sentence and 150 hours of community service, includes the murderer’s description of Miss Hersi, which I do not believe.

So much for the BBC. MTV had a documentary entitled “The Body in the Bathroom: The Murder of Naomi Hersi”. The photo of her there is of her, still alive, and by coincidence with a red patch on the wall behind her head.

After the conviction The Independent reported her “legal name” and that she was an “openly transgender woman”. It reported that her murderer (whose photo, often repeated, is not attractive) “was a former grade A student”. The link is “transgender-murder-sex-drugs-[killer’s name]-naomi-hersi-heathrow-airport”. Almost at the end of the article, it quotes a detective inspector saying she “will be much missed by all those who knew her, especially by her family”. Someone from the Crown Prosecution Service said her death was “tragic”.

The Mirror headline is “Web of lies that snared university drop-out for murder of transgender woman”. The page starts with a video from Channel 5, “The Body in the Bathroom”, then invites the reader to subscribe to “free email alerts from Mirror – Celebs”. The murderer was “a gifted tennis player”. There are three images of Miss Hersi, captioned “(Image: Naomi Hersi)”- the one with the coincidental red stain, and one with her presenting male. There is a long account of the murderer’s lies, and nothing about Miss Hersi at all. Of her family, the Mirror says, “their grief still goes on”.

After the murderer was sentenced, The Guardian published the same unattractive photo of him, and a Press Association report. She was 36. There is one of her photos: the caption again describes her as “sweet and trusting”. The murderer mixed fact and fiction, disregarding anyone but himself. Miss Hersi’s sister is a “hospital doctor”- Registrar? Consultant? Junior doctor? Her father said the grief has “consumed us”. The murderer had been at the LSE but his “promising academic career” was cut short.

The Sun reported on the sentencing of the murderer’s girlfriend. It described Miss Hersi as the murderer’s “transgender lover”. There is nothing about Miss Hersi at all, just about the murderer, his girlfriend who believed his lies until their trial and then had a breakdown, the murder, and how Miss Hersi met the murderer, on a “dating app”.

The Press and Journal of Aberdeen, famed for the “Aberdeen Man Lost at Sea” headline reporting the Titanic sinking, has a tag page for “Naomi Hersi” but no articles now tagged.

I thought the Daily Mail had interviewed her sister Amina, but it appears they only watched “The Body in the Bathroom”. The article refers to Naomi as “he” and by her male name, shows her photo presenting male, and describes the murder in detail. Naomi never showed herself to her sister: she only saw her presenting male. If Amina said anything about what Naomi was like as a person, the film or the Mail don’t consider that worth recounting. Perhaps that’s a good thing: if Amina had only seen her sister presenting male, Naomi had not really shown who she was.

So much for the mainstream media.

A week after the murder, Stonewall commented “Media coverage of Naomi Hersi’s death is a disgrace”. It wrote of the abuse trans people suffer, but nothing about Miss Hersi. Galop, the LGBT+ anti-violence charity, issued a statement on the press coverage of Naomi Hersi. “The media reporting may be unsettling for trans communities…. We are here if you have been affected.”

I had not heard of Fumble, “Your handy guide to sex”. It has a large headline “Black Trans Lives Matter”. It says “It’s time we listened and believed the voices of the trans community”. It then quotes the start of Travis Alabanza’s article in Gal-Dem, a news site with Black women and non-binary journalists. This is that article. As a black nonbinary person Travis apologises to Miss Hersi, that things happened to her that happen to other Black TGV (Trans and Gender Variant) people.

Travis reports “This killing hits particularly hard”. The Times, which reports the most trivial thing if it can make trans people look bad, did not report the murder. They write searingly of anti-blackness: would there be a similar silence for a white trans woman with class privileges? As I said, I am glad I am that trans woman. I am not dead. I say it because it is true: I am not trying to be nice, I just could not bear the additional discrimination. From her still visible Twitter, Travis found out that Miss Hersi was “a tennis enthusiast, a music lover and a chocolate addict”.

Research Naomi Hersi, they said. After an hour and the top twenty articles my Google search finds for her name, I know she was sweet and funny, trusting and carefree, a tennis enthusiast, music lover and chocolate addict, that she at least once used a “dating app”, and that she lived to age 36. I know a bit about her murderer, and her murderer’s deluded accomplice, and a lot about his lies and the crime. I have seen the lovely photographs, and that’s all I know of Naomi Hersi. There may be a tribute on line to Naomi Hersi the person, describing her joys and dreams, but I have not found it. Instead there are reports of the crime and the murderer’s attempts to get off.

Lower down the google rankings, Isabelle Ehiorobo anatomises how the murderer’s story plays on transphobic and racist tropes to portray Naomi as a threat. Sometimes such “Bad Victim” tactics result in acquittal. I look at Isabelle’s photo, see she is Black, think she might be trans, and wish it was a white cis bloke explaining these things, that we did not have to explain them to people, fearing we were not believed. There was a lot of evidence against the murderer, such as the lack of defensive wounds on either party, indicating he had surprised her, and she had no chance to defend herself; and there was CCTV of them together. Without that evidence, might he have got off with it?

Trans women in sport

Does anyone transition in order to have an unfair advantage in sport? No. Trans women transition because we are women, because the difference between presenting male and expressing female is the difference between living life in monochrome and in colour. This does not stop the anti-trans movement from complaining about us. The complaints show transphobia at work.

In 2015 the International Olympic Committee sought to guarantee fair competition, and accepted that surgery was not necessary for that. The athlete must declare herself to be female, which cannot be reversed for four years, and show her testosterone levels were below 10nmol/L (290 ng/dl) for at least 12 months before her first competition and throughout her period competing. Longer periods of reduced testosterone may be required by medical authorities on a case by case basis. Normal levels are 240-950 ng/dl in males, 8-60 in females. In 2018 the IOC were set to halve that level to 5nmol/L, or 145 ng/dl, but apparently didn’t.

In high levels of sports, trans women are underrepresented. That shows that the sociological disadvantages we suffer outweigh any physical advantages. There are physical advantages in size, but in boxing where there are weight categories a trans woman is not going to be bigger than a cis woman competitor.

I write this because of Hadley Freeman’s column today. She minimises the Olympic criterion, “to have been reducing testosterone for twelve months”- actually, it is to have reduced the level. Martina Navratilova started the current publicity, though I have heard angry opposition to trans women in sports long before then. When she was in competition, she faced terrific homophobic abuse: one headline read “Martina turns girls into gays”.

Hadley Freeman claims to be persecuted, that all the coverage is for the trans women. The media, terrified of being on the wrong side of history, responded predictably, and headlines said that Navratilova was “criticised over ‘cheating’ trans women comments”. There are some pro-trans articles. But the Times, predictably, wrote “Male bodies do not belong in women’s sport”- however much we reduce testosterone- and the Spectator risibly said “Women’s sports may one day soon consist entirely of men”. The Mirror quoted India Willoughby, a trans woman, saying trans women should not compete in women’s events. While Susanna Reid was “nervous” talking about the subject because she was worried that she would get the wording wrong, swimmer Sharron Davies said You’re still doing to have those advantages.. a lot of people are saying, come on we’re not transphobic but we need to support female athletes too.

Ooh, aren’t all these anti-trans campaigners brave? India Willoughby said LGB at the moment is more like the KGB in that no alternative opinion is allowed. Yet here they are, in the Mirror, Times, Guardian and Spectator mocking, belittling and monstering trans women.

The Telegraph announced, As Martina Navratilova has discovered, trans activists have won the debate – but lost the public. The West is now in a state of psychological civil war, a war between opposing realities. Consider what happens when a man becomes a woman, enters a women’s sporting event and takes the gold. To the trans activist, this is a natural and beautiful thing: the athlete is competing in the right category and it’s a win for equality. To many feminists, it’s a reversal of equality. The trans athlete may be taller and stronger than the other competitors – they are, said the tennis champion Martina Navratilova, “cheating”.

Um. The transphobes continually claim to be an oppressed minority, even when backed by Rupert Murdoch and the Barclay brothers, even when writing in the Guardian.

I am sorry that I am quoting the transphobes so much here. My next post goes on to the question whether trans women should be included in women’s sports. I argue that we should, with no requirement of a particular testosterone level; and say why.

Do not worry about transphobes

How much attention should you pay to transphobia? Very little.

There is street transphobia. It’s weird to think that someone who has never met you and has no knowledge of what you are like as a person really hates you. You are a symbol for him of all he despises. The worst last year for me screamed at me that he would kill me. Well, maybe he was having a bad day. Yes, there are people like that. They rarely do you actual harm. You need to know they exist, but should pay no attention at all to the details of their abuse.

What prompted this post was an article in the Daily Telegraph, which was shared in a trans group on facebook. Church of England’s plan for transgender baptisms outrages bishops was the headline. Well, the Telegraph is a transphobic publication, so when it reports on transphobia it exaggerates it. There are two errors in the headline. Some bishops support the measure, so it should say “Some” bishops are outraged, rather than implying all are. The other error is that no-one has proposed transgender baptisms. More than half the population of England has been baptised, and the ceremony is a reaffirmation of baptismal vows. No church will rebaptise people. If the headline is filled with error, the article will be too.

In fact “ten” bishops “criticised” the ceremony. Few bishops would confess to “outrage” in public. There are 41 diocesan bishops and around 75 “suffragan” or assistant bishops, so a tiny minority has condemned it. Analyse the article, and you see the transphobia is less widespread than the writer would want you to think. The writer makes a desperate attempt to list all the transphobes to make it sound like they are important, but his scrabbling shows how few they really are. They include John Fenwick, a bishop of the Free Church of England. I hadn’t heard of that, so googled it: it split off in 1844 and has nineteen congregations in England.

I mean really. Should you care what John Fenwick thinks? Of course not.

Haters gonna hate. The Telegraph wants its readers to hate trans people, and that is a bad thing. So does the Times, as both are hard-Right publications busily dehumanising various hate groups. Oh, and the Daily Mail, but you knew that. The risk with reading the Telegraph article is that it might discourage you. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid”. It’s full of detail, and if you read the detail and the various horrible things transphobes say, they appear more significant than they actually are. People get assaulted for being trans. We get mocked and vilified going about our ordinary lives. Most people are not like that. They don’t care. You will encounter prejudice, but mostly you will be able to live your life.

Sometimes it is worth checking out the nuances. Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester, said: “The church should be compassionate and sensitive towards those who experience gender dysphoria, but its fundamental teaching must be based on a revealed truth and objective biology and its relation to social structure.”

Compassionate and sensitive. That is a clear rebuke to those who would express or foment “outrage”. That journalist made a ranty headline, and from ignorance quoted the answer to his bigotry at the end of the article. “Objective biology” sounds pretty rejectionist- saying trans women are “biological males” or something- but I see a glimmer of hope in the words “its relation to social structure”. Socially, I am a woman. He does not merely discount me. He recognises social structure is relevant. Biology is not a complete answer.

There are transphobes about, but there are allies. They will encourage you and make you feel better. When you feel better you will be more motivated and better able to take action. Perhaps Pink News should take that into consideration: many of its December articles on trans have been “Help help the sky is falling” articles about transphobia. Indonesian city Padang using exorcisms to “cure” queer people. Um. The most positive stories are Miss Universe pays tribute to Angela Ponce. The winner, Ashley Graham, said She’s smart, driven, beautiful…and nothing short of extraordinary. Well, yes. I find beauty contests problematic, but I am pleased with the final Peace-and-Love message. We need more of that. And Transgender boxer Pat Manuel has his first professional win. Half positive: a school teacher was suspended for telling trans boy “You freak me out”. Yes he was a transphobic bully: and the school dealt with him.

Don’t pay too much attention to the transphobes. There will always be transphobes. You will still find ways to achieve your aims and succeed as the person you really are. I have just not been taking my own advice, reading a boring and stupid Times article, which refers to “a powerful trans lobby”. I am glad they are trying to terrify their own side. Imagine poor little transphobes, terrified of expressing their bigotry.