Germaine Greer Should Not Be No-Platformed

The writer’s past publications on trans* people should not be used as a basis for censorship

Image: Walnut Wippet

Image: Walnut Wippet

Feminism in 2015 is one of inclusion and temperance which is entirely at odds with Germaine Greer’s unapologetic rhetoric. She has referred to transwomen as “female impersonators”, “ghastly parodies” and “delusional”. Her language is grossly insensitive especially considering trans* people are at a higher risk of violence and harassment. In her academic writing Greer does not consider trans* issues for their own sake, rather uses them in the abstract as exemplary of institutional cis-misogyny.

Accepting transwomen as women conflicts with her explanation of the social construction of gender identity. She claims this does not enter into her treatment of transwomen on an individual basis; in a recent interview on BBC Newsnight she attests that she would “with someone who wished to be known as female, use female speech forms as a courtesy”. In the same interview Greer notes the fact that she has not written about transwomen for “a long time” and it is not a subject she has any interest in returning to. Figuring her as actively propagating transmisogyny is therefore unjustifiable.

On 18 November Greer was due to give a talk at the University of Cardiff to address the triumphalist understanding of 20th Century Feminism. A petition was drawn up to no platform her on the grounds that she has used inflammatory language towards transwomen, does not consider them to be women and denies the existence of transphobia. The petition gained 2, 965 signatures of its 5,000 target, though it may have been met had Greer not already pulled out of the talk due to the backlash.

YUSU Women’s Committee reacted similarly to news of Julie Bindel debating the legalisation of sex workers last month, a figure with whom the NUS has deemed too threatening for its officers to share a platform due to her authoring similar writings on the subject of transwomen.

No platform was founded on preventing racist and fascist hate speech, with the intent to deter violence. It is my feeling that no platform is becoming a tool to censor people who hold controversial opinions and refuse to publically retract them. For such a phenomenon to enter the university space which should be one of pluralism, freedom of thought and open debate is unacceptable.

In a discussion with Evie Brill Paffard, co-chair of the LGBTQ network, I was alerted to the importance of regarding campus as a domestic space as well as a work space, i.e. a place where trans* students live.

Nevertheless I believe that if an individual or a group has socially corrosive ideas, a university is a comparatively safe environment to deconstruct them.

Recent attempts to no platform Greer and Bindel were based upon qualms that were unrelated to the subjects they were discussing. Neither have volunteered their opinion on transwomen in the last five years. It is only in light of this petition that Greer has returned to the subject rendering the claim that she continues to perpetuate transmisogyny problematic.

When asked for comment, Ashley Reed, trans* convener, said “The big problem is cis people (like yourself) speaking over trans* voices, blotting out our real experiences of oppression and ignoring what we’re saying.” I therefore urge trans* individuals to respond publically.

I don’t agree with Greer’s views on transwomen or FGM or clitoral orgasms, but if she were to give a talk at the University, I wouldn’t censor her.

16 comments

  1. So after Ashley Reed told you that you were part of the problem you didn’t reconsider writing an article about this, not even just a little bit?

    It’s not so easy for trans people to respond publically when everyone’s trying to protect the people who contribute to their oppression. Why on earth do you think so many of us are in the closet? It’s not safe, and it won’t be safe until our safety is prioritised over “free speech” hate speech.

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    • 10 Nov ’15 at 2:21 pm

      Ciarán Morrissey

      It’s stated in the article that Greer has not commented publicly about these issues for quite some time. When she does comment, it’s either through a written medium or through giving a lecture to an audience of individuals who have decided to be there.
      It is therefore ludicrous to suggest that her presence on campus is in any way impacting the safety of trans* individuals.
      Ultimately, Greer is being censored because her views on the concept of gender are in conflict with the modern mainstream academy. So much for intellectual freedom and pluralism.
      Telling somebody they are part of the problem is not an argument.

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      • Yes, that is stated, and it’s complete nonsense. Both Bindel and Greer have spoken about trans people this year. Top student journalism points for being factually incorrect.

        http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2015/04/15/julie-bindel-on-same-sex-marriage-abolish-it-all-and-replace-with-civil-partnerships/
        http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-east-wales-34626450

        I also recommend having a read of Bindel’s twitter feed, she’s still very engaged in the trans debate as you’ll see plainly. The vast majority of her tweets are ignorant comments about sex work and trans people.
        https://twitter.com/bindelj

        I agree that calling someone a part of the problem isn’t an argument, and it was never intended to be. It’s addressing the fact that you and Lily are in no place to tell trans* people whether we should feel safe or not, and you have no right to speak for us. This article overrides the experiences of trans* people, which is why I didn’t choose to provide a useful quote. No matter what I said, I would lose agency of my words and everything I said would be overridden with the voice of a cis person.

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        • 10 Nov ’15 at 2:57 pm

          Ciarán Morrissey

          Fair enough, Greer and Bindel have both addressed comments aimed at them in reference to earlier writings on trans* people. However this is hardly the same as outlining a new argument or writing a new publication on the issue.
          You’re absolutely right in that neither Lily or I are trans*, and hence we don’t have the lived experiences of someone who is. It is not my intention to marginalise those individuals who are trans*, or to suggest that their experiences are invalid or their feelings are wrong.
          However, being that Greer wouldn’t actually be in any domestic spaces, but would instead likely be hosted in a lecture hall attended only by people who had willingly put themselves in that situation, how much of a danger can she be said to pose to trans* students?
          If Greer is on a platform where she can be questioned, critiqued, and deconstructed, and is speaking in such a place that she can be avoided entirely, then in what sense can it be said that her mere presence is dangerous?

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          • “It is not my intention to marginalise those individuals who are trans*, or to suggest that their experiences are invalid or their feelings are wrong.”
            “It is therefore ludicrous to suggest that her presence on campus is in any way impacting the safety of trans* individuals.” “…how much of a danger can she be said to pose to trans* students?”
            Sorry to be That Person Who Quotes You Back At Yourself but you realise how you sound right now. “No, your feelings aren’t wrong, but there is no reason for you to feel them and you’re ludicrous for expressing them.”
            Try again.

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            • 10 Nov ’15 at 3:16 pm

              Ciarán Morrissey

              Are we defining being unsafe as feeling unsafe?

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              • Anyone who refers to transwomen as “men” is unsafe enough to not be treated as some kind of authority figure.

                And you know what? Feeling unsafe is not at odds with being unsafe. If a member of an oppressed group feels unsafe around someone whose views contribute to their oppression, that’s pretty justified.

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              • Obviously not, but are we dismissing ‘feeling unsafe’ as a totally worthless statement? We’re also ignoring the fact that as long as transphobic views are supported in people deemed harmless, it empowers and vindicates transphobes who are not harmless. Greer’s statements do not exist in a vacuum.

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  2. I’m transgender (non-binary) and totally agree with Ashley and Ayex. Even within LGBTQ spaces, cis people keep talking over us on issues like this when they don’t experience our oppression. Cis people are part of the problem by being shit allies at best and not letting us be heard. Also certainly re: Bindel speaking on an “unrelated” issue, sex work is a topic that is massively related to trans issues. Trans people as a whole are 11x more likely to go into sex work than cis women and are constantly profiled as being sex workers on the street by police.

    I’ll support “intellectual freedom” when people accept my identity as being valid.

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  3. Identity politics has become so utterly manipulative and intelectual dishonest. The meaning of “unsafe” has been distorted with the manipulative intentions of adding emotional appeal to arguments of oposition. NOBODY is truly unsafe because of Greer’s lecture.

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  4. How does it not make trans* people unsafe when transphobic views are actively reinforced and validated by allowing high-profile people with such views to present as feminist icons in an environment that’s essentially supposed to be safe? The feminist spaces, even at York where at least some emphasis has been put on issues regarding trans* people, mainly consist of and focus on cis people and the issues that trans* people face every day are generally being ignored on a continuous basis. This means it’s hard enough for people to address transphobia even without people like Greer or Bindel being invited to give talks at universities, which serves to reinforce pre-existing transphobic views and to marginalise trans* people and silence their voices, simply by making transphobic views more prevalent and more accepted (if the university accepts these people as feminist icons, why wouldn’t many of the students too, especially if they have no experience or understanding of trans* issues) and therefore more difficult to address by individual trans* students (who really shouldn’t have to be doing this in the first place and can put them in an unsafe position). Trans* people face violence, discrimination and mental health issues significantly more often than cis people, not to mention homelessness, murder and suicide, and to claim that what is essentially validating transphobic views in supposedly inclusive spaces does not make trans* people unsafe is ignorant at best.

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  5. I disagree with Greer’s views but I’m sorry, free speech trumps any one’s feelings, including some of the folks who left comments here. Saying that someone shouldn’t speak because you don’t like it is weaksauce; just show why their arguments are regressive nonsense and beat them in public discourse.

    Just a little thought experiment…hows about every one earth can silence anyone they like on the basis that it may make them feel unsafe to hear opinions they disagree with? What the hell is left?

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    • Silencing and no-platforming are vastly different and your ‘thought experiment’ is ridiculous. We’ve already addressed the problem with telling trans people to just come out and stand up for themselves: it’s DANGEROUS to be an out trans person. That danger is a feature of their everyday lives. Not to mention it’s ableist to act like who’s right comes down to who can win a debate.

      Ps. ‘Reality’ is probably the epitome of pretentious neo-liberalist ‘I’m objective and your opinions are wrong’ names.

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  6. Also, please stop acting like Greer is some threat to your “safety.” Nonsense.

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