Whatever This Nonsense Letter is Complaining About, it is Not Censorship

My attention was drawn this morning to this open letter in the Guardian/Observer/Whatever signed by a long list of notable transphobes and whorephobes, and a few people who really should know better. “We cannot allow censorship and silencing of individuals”, it says.

It goes on to describe a number of examples of this “censorship and silencing”. They are:

  1. The cancellation of Kate Smuthwaite’s gig at Goldsmith’s College last month.

    There was, it is claimed, “intimidation” over this show, which caused it to be cancelled. However, the organiser of the very same show paints a rather different picture, one where they only sold 8 tickets, where the only suggestions of a picket or protests appear to have been manufactured by Ms Smurthwaite herself (possibly in a misguided attempt to generate some controversy and sell some tickets?)

    This is all because Kate has curated a reputation of being a sex work abolitionist, and tends to be quite abrasive towards sex workers who take the view that they’d like to continue their livelihood in safety, without someone trying to coercively “rescue” them, than you very much.

    The show was cancelled because nobody bought tickets, for whatever reason, but in the two weeks since, the student volunteers who run Goldsmith’s SU and their comedy society have been the targets of some abuse as a result.

    It sounds like someone is being silenced and intimidated here, but I don’t think it’s Kate Smurthwaite.

  2. Calls at the Cambridge Union to withdraw a speaking invitation to Germaine Greer.

    I actually know something about this one, because I was involved. The Union Society (an expensive bit of prime real estate in Cambridge City Centre with a debating society attached, known for being somewhere were aspiring political hacks cut their teeth, and not to be mistaken with Cambridge University Students’ Union) did indeed invite Germaine Greer to speak.

    Greer has a long history of transphobic bigotry, and managed to fire herself as a Cambridge lecturer over it. the Students’ Union LGBT+ society, who had a partnership with the Union Society for their weekly socials, felt this was a bit off and wrote to the Union Society outlining their concerns.

    The Union Society noted their concerns by way of reply, and said they would go ahead anyway. In response, the LGBT+ Society and the Women’s Society organised a separate event featuring noted trans feminist writer, Roz Kaveney, at which I also spoke. A couple of students also handed out some leaflets to those going to the Union Society’s Greer event.

    That’s not “silencing” and it’s certainly not “intimidation”. I saw the whole email chain between CUSU LGBT+ and the Union Society. It was all terribly polite and respectful, but the two sides did disagree. That’s ok, that’s allowed.

    The expression of disagreement is a fundamental part of freedom of expression. Shame on the letter signatories for trying to silence it.

  3. Rupert Reed, the Green Party Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Cambridge, recently got into something of a kerfuffle over comments he made in a blog and on twitter, initially about the use of the word, “cisgender”, but later compounded in a clumsy apology where he shot himself in the foot by suggesting there was a debate to be had about whether trans women should be allowed to use public toilets.

    All that I have done is join many feminists in saying that it is up to women, not anyone else – and certainly not me – to decide who gets let into women-only spaces, such as women’s toilets. All women have a right to be involved in making those decisions.

    Reed apologised again, properly this time. I understand some LGBT people in Cambridge who wanted to vote Green wrote to the local party saying they didn’t think they could while Reed was their candidate and … that’s it.

    The letter to the Guardian says, “The Green party came under pressure to repudiate the philosophy lecturer Rupert Read after he questioned the arguments put forward by some trans-activists”, but those “arguments put forward by trans activists” are basically just, “can we use the toilet, please?”

    Regardless, telling a politician that you thought something they said was out of order, and you’re not going to vote for them as a result, is not “silencing” and it’s not “intimidation”. What it actually is is democracy. Shame on the letter signatories for opposing it.

  4. Julie Bindel is no platformed by the NUS LGBT.

    No platforming sounds terribly serious. In reality, it basically means, “we won’t invite this person to our stuff, and we won’t appear on the same platform as them.”

    Given Bindel is known for her transphobia and has spoken publicly in support of trans conversion therapy (remember Leelah Alcorn?), it’s hardly surprising that the NUS LGBT don’t want anything to do with her. The thing is, people are allowed to take their ball and go home, and they are allowed to express opinions about public figures and even protest about them. These are fundamental parts of freedom of expression, and not in any way an attack on it.

Some people around the world are actually oppressed because of the things they want to say. They’re not comedians engaging in publicity stunts, washed up academics getting invited to plush debating societies, politicians getting caught saying something stupid or transphobes with more newspaper columns than I can reasonably count. By signing this letter, you do a disservice to those who are actually denied freedom of expression around the world. Shame on you.

Those who signed and have a history of transphobia and whorephobia know what they’re doing and are being deeply cynical here.

To those who signed it because they were told it was about “freedom of speech” and didn’t research the context, I merely ask to please try to be a bit less credulous in future.

Oh, and maybe try to be a bit less “first world problems” about healthy disagreement, ok?


21 thoughts on “Whatever This Nonsense Letter is Complaining About, it is Not Censorship

  1. Thankyou Sarah for a well written reply to so-called democratic academic idiots who still think transwomen do what they do because they like being threatened by bigots and hypocrites while world wide the body count rises every year.

  2. An excellent comment on the situation. This letter wasn’t about “free speech” as far as I could see. It seemed to be more about supporting a partisan position or sticking up for one’s friends (often the same thing in those circles). Nothing many of the signatories have ever said on the subject of free speech leads me to think for a second that many of them even know what it is or would believe in free speech for EVERYONE if they did.

    Free speech does NOT mean “let my friends speak”. Neither does it mean “free speech for my friends but not for people whose views I don’t like”. Neither does it mean “I must be allowed to forward my agenda wherever I like”. It is frightening that supposedly educated people seem to think any of these things are actually the case, especially when I number of the signatories have form for silencing a number of different types of people and denying them agency (for example, sex workers). We need to fight these moral censors so that free speech in its truest sense is actually promoted.

  3. Perhaps, in a way, they have a point? Without an opportunity to hear them, people won’t learn how hateful they are, and they DO start to sound like they are the victims, rather than the perpetrators, of oppression. It’s when things like Germaine Greer’s anti-trans outrages actually get published that we see the largest drops in the TERFs’ public credibility.

    Maybe to make amemds for “censoring free speech” Goldsmith’s or some similar organisation should invite them to a special “festival in honour of free speech” with these anti-trans comedians and other similarly censored material: rape-comedy, racist comedy etc.

    And on the political front, that event could have speeches from these anti-trans politicians and others who have experienced similar censorship: the BNP, Holocaust-denial groups, anti-Muslim and anti-semitic groups, racial-purity organisations, eugenics groups who want to rid society of disabity etc.

    Then everyone could hear the anti-trans viewpoints in their proper context. And the TERFs and other anti-whatever groups would no longer be able to make misleading statements about being “censored”. ;-).

  4. I think you know this, but the article reads slightly incorrectly – the Read kerfuffle was initially started by his ableist slurs, which he tried to justify by questioning the word cis. Then he shared his blog post which really kicked things off.

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  6. It’s not just “some people around the world”. Within universities, university staff are now supposed to monitor student activities for signs of Islamic extremism, report back to UKBA on international students’ attendance at lectures, and there is an open letter from the Critical Race and Ethnicities Network alleging that a conference on Institutional Islamophobia was cancelled due to the threat of protest by far-right groups and counter-fascist demonstrators. But the non-existent “silencing” of trans-excluding and sex-worker-excuding feminists is the cause they’ve chosen to publicise.

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  13. I think the above article is a wonderful rebuttal to those who either mistakenly signed the letter or who misunderstood the damaging impact it would have on their reputations as equality and human rights spokespeople. It’s interesting to note that Peter Tatchell is now saying that crucial information was left off the letter that appeared in the Guardian.

    I have seen the Mary Beard stuff , but surely there is a contradiction here cos it is okay for the TERF’s ( I’m not lumping her in that category ) to personalise the debate ( Not that I think there should even be a debate about someone’s authenticity and legitimacy given the equality act ) with blog/vlog/or twitter attacks on trans activists but when people respond those with privilege and access run straight to the media decrying that they have been ‘attacked’ or that free speech is under threat. What do they think their vile positioning does to those who live in fear of being really attacked and in many instances being murdered because of their gender dysphoria ?

    In years to come ( hopefully not too many ) we will look back at this absurd notion that biology equals destiny and the ridiculous discussions that it is important to protect ‘ our women’ from ‘rape’ by these misguided people who wish to invade our spaces and colonise our bodies . Scare tactics in the armoury of arguments that were promoted by slave traders ( masters ) , apartheid supporters and the Nazis and other groups in the not too distant past.

    Perhaps another letter should be written and a range of supportive signatories ( academics, activists, audiences and all others ) be asked to sign it? Or methinks it is better not to validate these reductive arguments , consigning the prejudiced to the annals of hate speech ignorance along with all the others .

    • “surely there is a contradiction here cos it is okay for the TERF’s ( I’m not lumping her in that category ) to personalise the debate ( Not that I think there should even be a debate about someone’s authenticity and legitimacy given the equality act ) with blog/vlog/or twitter attacks on trans activists but when people respond those with privilege and access run straight to the media decrying that they have been ‘attacked’”

      That’s very much in vogue at the moment. Journalists are big on on the one hand claiming that any attack on them is an attack on you and me, but on the other hand guarding their special privileges from the plebs who might dare to step to them without an editor’s permission.

      Look at the Paris shootings. Within minutes the shooting of several people became an attack on “free speech”. The press that only a year previously was being rightly hauled over coals for the contempt it routinely showed for normal people in the pursuit of headlines was suddenly trying to get all of us to stand up for its freedom, even though, actually, non-journalists don’t have those freedoms and never will.

      The access that Twitter gives us plebs is puncturing a few ego balloons, and it does seem that people who have gotten famous *since* Twitter are far more accepting that merely being on TV doesn’t entitle them to shut other people down or to expect special treatment in the new public sphere. Unfortunately most of the people involved in this are very much Old Media, and are furtively guarding their little patch even while it shrinks around them.

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  17. I think it’s safe to say that, now that the Spectator of all things is trumpeting the bold and brave TERFs and Peter Tatchell against the evil unsanctioned feministas… it’s pretty obvious what side everyone should be on.

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