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An open letter to Suzanne Moore

Paris Lees responds to the furore surrounding an article in the New Statesman in which Moore quipped women are expected to look like Brazilian trans women

Sun, 13 Jan 2013 17:48:32 GMT | Updated 4 years today

Dear Suzanne,
You probably don't know me but I know you and wanted to introduce myself. I'm a fledgling writer. I've even written in some of the same places you have. I'm a fan of yours.
When I was at school, our English teacher would cut out articles by Polly Toynbee for the class to read, and told us she was an important woman people respected. I look up to her still. And you. You write so well on so many things, things I agree with, things I am glad I agree with, because you have a platform that I don't, because you argue so well, so colourfully. I like that you write for the Guardian and the Daily Mail; I like your pragmatism. I like what you represent, that you're a woman people listen to, whom they respect. I like that you're a success. You are, in truth, the very kind of woman I'd like to be.
I was in the bath when I decided to write you a letter. I was feeling depressed. I'd had a long day and a long week at work and I got home to read some of the comments other journalists had made about your departure from Twitter. "Bullied off by a bunch of trannies" was a popular one. "But there's always stupid journalists writing nasty things about trans people," pointed out my partner, wondering why I was so upset by your Twitter comments. Suzanne Moore, I told him, is not stupid. She's the very opposite. I admire her.
I didn't think your New Statesman article was so bad. I wouldn't have outright called you a transphobe, that's unhelpful, but your use of transsexual as a noun was problematic. It's akin to referring to someone as "a black", "a gay" or "a cripple", and I doubt you would ever do that. When I saw you weren't taking people's complaints seriously, my first reaction was to Tweet you with images of Brazilian trans women, "murdered trannies". There are plenty of them, online, if you know where to look.
I don't want to bash you. But I would like you to understand why so many trans people were angry. Many of us have such miserable lives, you see. I am fortunate that I "pass" - i.e. my appearance doesn't, generally, reveal my trans status and I am able to go about my daily business in relative peace. I also have a supportive family, these days; I am educated, working (and working class; raised on a council estate) and in a stable relationship. I am incredibly lucky.
I've done my time though. Back before I was given treatment on the NHS, I didn't pass so well. I was frequently abused in the street. I couldn't possibly list the catalogue of injustices I've endured simply for being who I am, but they range from the subtle smirks of shop assistants to instances of violence that I find so traumatic I cannot bear to think of them. I have spent Christmas alone, because my family found it too awkward to be around me and I have lost good jobs and close friends and, almost, my mind. I've been suicidal.
You might think I would distract myself with media. I threw my television away 5 years ago, though, because I got sick of hearing jokes about people like me. I saw that trans people were fair game to journalists, television producers, screen writers and editors and executives at all manner of media outlets. Of course I had always known that the tabloids prey on trans people, as they do all vulnerable people, to be paraded as freaks, but I was genuinely shocked to see a piece by Germaine Greer in the Guardian in which she referred to trans women as "ghastly parodies of women" with "too much eye-shadow". I really didn't think they printed stuff like that in "proper" newspapers. They do.
American writer Janet Mock sums up the feeling this drip-drip effect produces:
"As a trans woman, there's rarely a time when I've been able to applaud the portrayal or someone's commentary on a woman like myself in mainstream media. As a fan of many shows, entertainers and writers who've belittled "my people," I have a bittersweet relationship with what I consume. If I wrote off every famous person or show that offended me, I would have nothing to watch… There are many things that I choose not to offer my commentary on because I just want it to go away and I don't want to be bombarded by the stans who will surely say that I am "too sensitive," that it was "just a joke."
I understand how frustrating it can be when you've worked hard on an article. I've even been accused of not being "intersectional" myself. People implied that I was racist. It was upsetting. Just yesterday a trans person accused me, on Twitter, of being "out for myself". I read through her timeline and I was not surprised to learn that she's having a tough time: she's been messed around by the NHS for 3 years, faces discrimination at work, is isolated and hates the way she looks. She is yet another person (and I say person, because transsexuals don't exist, people do) who is being punished for who she is and she is thoroughly miserable about it. There are many such people.
I can't tell you why I am who I am. I don't know if it is psychological or biological, or hormonal, or social, or simply natural human variation. What I do know, however, is that I feel most comfortable expressing myself the way I do, and happiest when other people see me the way I see myself: female. I just am, just as you just are. Just as black people and gay people and left-handed people just are. I am what I am and we are what we are.
And you, Suzanne, are a very clever woman. You know about patriarchy, and rape culture, and racism, and capitalism and every other system of oppression, of signs and actions that contribute violence to the unlucky minorities they persecute. I don't think it is difficult for you to understand the frustration trans people feel from living in a culture that relentlessly ridicules them, at every level of society. I know you must feel the injustice of this. And I know you never set out to hurt anyone.
It's been another long day for me. Once again I'm reminded of the wallpaper in my mind; that ever-present knowledge that trans people are objects of ridicule in public life, things to be referred to and smirked at, not real, valid living human beings with fears and weaknesses and hopes and dreams and all the other things that you and I and every one else on the planet feels.
And I find I don't want to be angry; I don't want you to be just another person making off comments about trans people. I want you to be Suzanne Moore, my hero. You're so much better than the article Julie Burchill wrote in your defence. But I want people to stop ridiculing people like me - and I want today to be the day they stop.
I don't know why you left Twitter, Suzanne, but I hope you're alright. I could be better. I think we all could be.
Yours truly,
Paris Lees @ParisLees

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