In February 2003, the California Coastal Records Project launched, then displaying some 10,000+ photos taken of the coast; the idea was to document coastline destruction before it happens. Shortly after, Barbara Streisand sent the project a Cease and Desist, as she wanted to protect her privacy yet her mansion happened to be in one of the photos.
Now, there are several flaws with her plan of attack. For one thing, by filing suit last month, she assured that all us media hyenas would dutifully report it. Thousands of people who never would have seen the photo have now signed on to Adelman’s Web site to check it out.
Trying to censor something will frequently result in it being more widely passed around. But what if that’s precisely what you want?
Here enters Germaine Greer.
Cardiff University’s Women’s Association had a conversation with its members about Greer’s planned lecture on November 18, 2015. They decided they couldn’t welcome Greer’s unapologetic transphobia into their community. Bearing in mind the way that ideology like Greer’s materially affects trans women—by limiting their health care options as a result of Janice Raymond’s report to the American government on trans health care, by pushing trans women out of domestic violence shelters even though trans women are disproportionately affected by domestic violence—that choice makes sense. It is also worth mentioning that this is an issue of money. Greer doubtless demands a hefty fee to speak at an institution. The Cardiff University Women’s Association seems not to want to line her pockets with money that might otherwise go towards what they view as more worthy goals.
Germaine Greer then wrote an op-ed for The Guardian, a U.K. newspaper read internationally, discussing how she’d been silenced and censored. Then she went on BBC Two, on a show called Newsnight, and she talked about how she’d been silenced and censored. In both of these outlets, she reiterated in even stronger terms her distaste for trans people. I won’t quote her remarks. The inherent irony—that The Guardian and Newsnight are much larger platforms than the Cardiff Student Union—seems lost on Germaine Greer. The facts about free speech and censorship—that censorship is categorically the province of the state, which was not involved here, and that absolute free speech does not legally exist in the U.K.—seem lost on her too.
I’m not so convinced Greer is so “lost,” as crying “censorship” is a common tactic used by bigots to counter the loss of a platform. Greer is a retired academic with dozens of books to her name and an university archive of her writing; taking away a single lecture will not silence her in any meaningful way. But sadly it will get people talking about her, and help promote her transphobia far and wide.
So how do you counter a Xanados Gambit? In this case, I think the best response isn’t to counter it at all.
[CONTENT WARNING: extreme transphobia]
Governments that consist of very few women have hurried to recognise as women men who believe that they are women and have had themselves castrated to prove it, because they see women not as another sex but as a non-sex. No so-called sex-change has ever begged for a uterus-and-ovaries transplant; if uterus-and-ovaries transplants were made mandatory for wannabe women they would disappear overnight. The insistence that man-made women be accepted as women is the institutional expression of the mistaken conviction that women are defective males.
– The Whole Woman, 1999.
Nowadays we are all likely to meet people who think they are women, have women’s names, and feminine clothes and lots of eyeshadow, who seem to us to be some kind of ghastly parody, though it isn’t polite to say so. We pretend that all the people passing for female really are. Other delusions may be challenged, but not a man’s delusion that he is female.
– “Caster Semenya sex row: What makes a woman?“, 2009
I should have said ‘You’re a man. The Female Eunuch has done less than nothing for you. Piss off.’ The transvestite (sic) held me in a rapist’s grip…. Knee-jerk etiquette demanded that I humour this gross parody of my sex by accepting him as female, even to the point of allowing him to come to the lavatory with me. Bureaucratic moves were afoot to give him and his kind the right to female identity, a female passport even … It is strange though that a vocal and combative body of feminists did not throw the whole idea out on its’ ear before it was quietly and sneakily implemented.”
– “Why sex change is a lie,” 1989
The lack of insight that MTF transsexuals usually show about the extent of their acceptance as females should be an indication that their behaviour is less rational than it seems. There is a witness to the transsexual’s script, a witness who is never consulted. She is the person who built the transsexual’s body of her own flesh and brought it up as her son or daughter, the transsexual’s worst enemy, his/her mother. Whatever else it is gender reassignment is an exorcism of the mother. When a man decides to spend his life impersonating his mother (like Norman Bates in Psycho) it is as if he murders her and gets away with it, proving at a stroke that there was nothing to her. His intentions are no more honourable than any female impersonator’s; his achievement is to gag all those who would call his bluff. When he forces his way into the few private spaces women may enjoy and shouts down their objections, and bombards the women who will not accept him with threats and hate mail, he does as rapists have always done.
– The Whole Woman, 1999.
I think misogyny plays a really big part in all of this [Caitlyn Jenner’s nomination for Woman of the Year], that a man who goes to these lengths to become a woman will be a better woman than someone who is just born a woman. It seems to me that what was going on there was that he/she wanted the limelight that the other, female, members of the family were enjoying and has conquered it, just like that [snaps fingers].”
– Interviewed by The Guardian, 2015
When a trans* woman was appointed to be the don of an all-women college, Greer eventually resigned in disgust.
Meanwhile, the feminist academic, Germaine Greer, who is a member of the college’s governing body, is horrified at the decision to admit Dr Padman as a Fellow of the college because the statutes insist that all fellows must be women. She is considering calling an emergency meeting of the governing body to discuss the controversy. Only Newnham’s principal, Dr Onora O’Neil, knew that Dr Padman had undergone a sex-change operation to become a woman in 1982. Dr Greer and other fellows had had no idea of Dr Padman’s history. “We have driven a coach and horses through our statutes and I can’t believe we did it,” she said. “It’s disgraceful that Dr Padman has been placed in this situation. I makes me very angry.”
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Greer will deny what she’s written, when challenged in person. Emphasis mine:
Why not ask Greer a question, woman to woman? And so Casey did. She got up during the Q&A and cited a piece Greer had written for The Guardian in 2009. That’s where she called trans women “ghastly parodies.” Greer claimed not to remember writing the piece. Casey brought up Greer’s book The Whole Woman, in which she writes that trans women “do as rapists have always done.” Greer didn’t acknowledge that. Then she called Casey a misogynist. The crowd applauded.
Another trans woman, Trish Salah, author of Wanting in Arabic and likewise a Lambda Literary Award winner, rose to ask another question. Greer took one look at Trish Salah and said, “All the trans people I know are such exhibitionists! It’s all about exhibitionism!” The moderator asked the two trans women to sit down. “Can we please have a different question?” the moderator asked. “On a different subject?”
Greer, a life-long academic, wants an unopposed platform to share her views. Crying “censorship” is a great way to silence our internal alarm bells. I’ll leave the final word to a trans* woman who protested the Winnipeg event.
Germaine Greer has never recanted her transphobia. And as my trans sister Merrill Grant noted in a letter to CMHR executives — which I and 11 other local trans people co-signed — it is a cruel irony that Greer speaks in a series titled Fragile Freedoms when many of us can’t access comprehensive and knowledgeable health care, when we face astronomical employment discrimination and poverty and when so many of us struggle against suicide, addiction and violence.
When you’re trans, you’re supposed to be grateful for crumbs. You’re expected to take it quietly when you’re harassed, be understanding when your family stops returning calls, keep your chin up when you find yourself unemployed and not speak up when lauded thinkers say cruel and vicious things about you and your community.
Or when others who purport to be on your side, like the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, offer them a podium and thousands of dollars to speak.
When I heard Greer was coming, I was angry and sad. But I wasn’t surprised. Nor am I surprised others haven’t spoken against her. Indeed, tickets to her speech are sold out.