Is “No Platforming” bullying?

Scottish Poetry Library in transphobia row shock! No-one knows whether the Scottish Poetry Library supports transphobes or not, but they have said suspicious things.

They have a code of conduct which says supportive things about trans people: we will not tolerate abuse on the grounds of a person’s… gender identity. However, they also claim they can police all the conduct of people involved with them: Misconduct is when the behaviour of someone undertaking work for, with or on behalf of the SPL does not meet expected standards of behaviour, and their actions or conduct leads to … harm of other people… our code of conduct applies to online activity.

That is, the SPL claims the right to no-platform people when they tweet negatively about others. As an organisation booking speakers and letting rooms, they can’t refuse to book you because you are trans or a woman, but they can if they think you have behaved offensively. Any organisation chooses who may speak from their platform. Others may write criticising those choices, and whether they are listened to depends on how prominent a platform they have.

Then they put out a statement, criticising “disharmony” on social media. Good luck with that. We will no longer ignore bullying and calls for no-platforming of writers. Well. Hachette has cancelled its plans to publish Woody Allen’s memoir, because of protests by staff: they withdrew their platform. There is no-platforming for all sorts of reasons, but only calls for no-platforming when there is disagreement. No openly racist speaker is going to get a platform at the SPL, but what about transphobes? Transphobes get prominent platforms all the time, and trans people and our allies call for it to be withdrawn- on our twitter accounts and in blogs if we have no better platform, in emails and protests.

There are only calls to no-platform someone when the speaker is privileged and protected, and the protesters are weak. Otherwise, the platform is denied without fuss, by the powerful. Transphobe speakers are privileged- prominent in labour unions and universities, with powerful backing from Rupert Murdoch and the Heritage Foundation among others. Someone tweeting that a transphobe should not speak is not a bully, because if they had power they would not need to tweet. If a crowd of people come together on Twitter objecting to a transphobe speaking, they are met with strong tweeted resistance from transphobes powerful and powerless. Who bullies whom?

Trans people and allies sent an open letter to the SPL, worried that their powerless calls for no-platforming would be used as an excuse to no-platform them. They write in solidarity with writers combatting racism, misogyny, ableism and other structural oppressions, so that oppressive action can be freely spoken about. They ask for clarification on SPL’s support for trans people, who receive exceptional online abuse and media scrutiny. They are against bullying and for freedom of expression, but want to call for no-platforming of bullies and transphobes, and want trans people involved in reporting transphobia. They fear the SPL statement means trans people, objecting to transphobes getting to speak. The Times report and many tweets connected the SPL statement to opposition to transphobia, and the SPL tweeted that Times article. Asif Khan of the SPL seems to think trans rights conflict with women’s rights, though they do not. We believe that it is a vital right of people to name oppressive action when we experience it, and to seek accountability from people and institutions who have acted oppressively and made space for oppressive action- by internal procedures and public statements. From the Forstater case, “freedom of speech” is not a legal protection for transphobic statements.

Prominent and less prominent transphobes made a counter-statement, extensively quoted by the Guardian, claiming to promote “intellectual debate and thought” “outside a very narrow ideology” when they were being transphobic. Of course they deny being transphobic, spread transphobic myths, and claim to support “Women’s rights”. No transphobe will ever admit their transphobia.

Scottish PEN’s slogan is “Defending the freedom of writers and readers”. They are aware that hate speech, including transphobia, inhibits and restricts the free speech of trans people and others. PEN says the SPL has a responsibility to the community to consider equality issues, and its workings should be public and open to criticism. Free expression is complex and any policy that ignores such complexity can stifle the free expression of a range of stakeholders, most notably members of marginalised communities. Such as trans people.

Race Reflections beautifully expresses this discussing “Freedom of Speech” as the right to say anything without consequences. The demand for such freedom is “Insidious reversing”, where the oppressed trans people are positioned as the oppressor. It takes away our right to resist the violence practised against us.

You are oppressing us!

Trans women cannot oppress any other group. There are too few of us. What is happening when we are accused of oppression? It is a threat: others are defending themselves when they lash out at us; sometimes they are defending children from us, which is particularly threatening, as it becomes right to erase us in order to defend children.

We are accused of wrongful “No platform” techniques to prevent free speech, of seeking the end of the University as a place of rigorous enquiry to be replaced by a cosseting crèche for self-absorbed “snowflakes”. What is going on? A machine of oppression. When trans people exercise our freedom of speech by protesting against transphobic speech, our freedom of speech is understood as oppressing such people as transphobe Julie Bindel with her columns in The Guardian, Standpoint, The New Statesman and The Spectator. We have no freedom of speech, it is for others. We are called bullies, intimidating and silencing others: this is a bullying tactic. A commenter elsewhere resented any contradiction by a trans woman or in favour of trans folk: he labelled every such contradiction “narcissistic rage”, however reasonable it was.

This wilfully misunderstands freedom of speech. It is not freedom from opposition, or freedom for acceptable views, or the power to be heard.

Our tactics are vilified as “No-platforming” though they are free speech themselves: refusing to be on the same platform as a transphobe, holding an alternative event somewhere else, boycotting the transphobe’s event. I support free speech, but have no obligation to listen to anyone. Julie Bindel gets endless platforms to complain of being no-platformed, of being bullied.

Accusations that trans women are violent are an incitement to violence against us. Rape threats and death threats on Twitter are shocking. We need to see the texts of them: the term “rape threat” is not as shocking as reading CHOO CHOO MOTHERFUCKER THE RAPE TRAIN’S ON ITS WAY. NEXT STOP YOU. I would love to knock you the fuck out. Not because you’re a female or a feminist, but because you’re an enormous bitch. If any trans person is sending such things, that is vile; but trans folk as a group are not responsible for that. Saying that we are, as a group, is incitement to violence against us.

No incitement to violence is less abominable than any other. Minimising or trivialising threats of violence against us is a threat to us.

All this comes from Sara Ahmed again. When you have “dialogue or debate” with those who wish to eliminate you from the conversation (because they do not recognise what is necessary for your survival or because they don’t even think your existence is possible), then “dialogue and debate” becomes another technique of elimination. A refusal to have some dialogues and some debates can thus be a key tactic for survival. But if we express our anger, the TERFs take that as more evidence that we wrong them.

Silver and gold woman

No Platform

Is Germaine Greer transphobic? Yes. Should she be no-platformed? No.

On Newsnight on Friday night, Kirsty Walk interviewed Greer about the petition started by Rachael Melhuish, Cardiff University Student Union women’s officer, to prevent her from speaking there on the subject Women and Power: the lessons of the twentieth century. The Vice-Chancellor of the University supports Freedom of Speech, but Dr. Greer is unlikely to go: I’m getting a bit old for all this. I’m 76, I don’t want to go down there and get screamed at and have things thrown at me. Bugger it. It’s not that interesting or rewarding.

She should clearly not be no-platformed, because of her eminence, and because as she says transgender is not her issue; but also because the speech would have been ignored outside the lecture hall, and now she has had more than half a million people hear her say one indubitably transphobic thing (trigger warning, I am going to quote it) and other things which are not the current consensus.

The transphobic thing was It seems to me that he [Caitlyn Jenner]- that what was going on there is that he- he/she- wanted the limelight that the other female members of the family were enjoying and has conquered it just like that.

The suggestion that we transition on a whim, or for notoriety, is hate. My claim to anyone’s sympathy, or anyone humouring me by using my female name, is the pain I have suffered. Picture me, lying on the bathroom floor weeping and screaming, curled in the foetal position, crying “I am not a man!” Repeatedly over months. Or the Indian middle class person, who could go to university and get a good professional job, but would rather be Hijra- a beggar or a prostitute.

See for yourself, but I am unsure whether Kirsty Wark, interviewing, is trying to get Dr. Greer to incriminate herself, or to say things Wark wants said but is too scared to say herself. It sounds like a catechism. Wark mentions Caitlyn Jenner, and Dr Greer says, wearily, “Must you?”

This is not transphobic: Caitlyn is to be honoured as Glamour Magazine’s “Woman of the year”. Dr Greer says I think misogyny plays a really big part in all of this, that a man who goes to these lengths will be a better woman than someone who’s born a woman. I agree that the beauty myth peddled by Glamour is misogynist, and wish Dr Greer had not called Caitlyn a man.

I don’t think this is transphobic either: I think that a great many women don’t think that post operative M-F transsexual people look like, sound like or behave like women, but they daren’t say so. That is simply true; though I doubt Dr Greer would like anyone judging her, or other cis women, on how “womanly” they are. I am not saying that people should not be allowed to go through [GRS], but that does not make them a woman. No, actually, it doesn’t; but generally I am treated as an honorary woman, treated as if I am a woman, and I rub along more or less OK like that.

A friend said Dr Greer is stuck in the 1990s. She says, People get insulted all the time. Australians get insulted every day of the week. That is not my experience: over the last twenty years discourse (apart from on Twitter) has been much more gentle. We object to offensive words.

There are two views: trans women are ridiculous and disgusting men, who should be shamed out of their perversity; and we are extremely brave and have overcome great difficulties, so should be treated with courtesy, as honorary women. Those holding the former view have been encouraged, because of the no-platform attempt.

Dr Greer also says You don’t have to say everything that is in your mind. You do use tact in the usual way. I would for example, with someone who wished to be known as female, use female speech forms, as a courtesy. I can live with that, actually, someone not accepting me as female but using my real name. You don’t get on with everyone.

Would she say something mollifying? No. I’m getting fed up with this, you know, I’ve had things thrown at me, I have been accused of things I have never done or said, people seem to have no concern about evidence or indeed even about libel.

Hieronymus Bosch, The Temptation of St Anthony, detail 3