It’s rare – but not unheard of, thank you Audre Lorde – that I completely agree with everything I know about someone’s political analysis. Sometimes I feel in complete agreement, and then I meet them and realise they deliberately use power and control in their interactions, or they are only interested in people they think are important, or they treat waiting staff like lackeys, or they talk to their partner without respect.
I often learn from the ideas or concepts or experiences or political analysis of people with whom I disagree, sometimes vehemently, about other things.
When I went to see the leader of the Black Panther Party in London a few years ago, he was fascinating on race, and much more thoughtful about gender in terms of African American women’s experiences than I’d expected. But he called anyone he didn’t agree with a faggot. Repeatedly. This was unchallenged by everyone there, including me and my straight but not homophobic Black British friend. The reasons I didn’t challenge were complex – partly I didn’t think I was going to change his mind, partly I was very aware of being nearly the only white person in the room, partly I was there to learn about a struggle I was less familiar with than battling homophobia.
So in theory I could go and see Germaine Greer, second wave feminist legend, author of one of the most important feminist texts in the 1970s, exponent of women’s liberation rather than just equality with men (which men?), the butt of much misogynist hatred.
Who deliberately outed transwomen in the 1980s and 1990s. Knowing that there were no protections for those transwoman from reactions like being fired, or losing their homes, or facing transphobic violence and rejection from their communities.
I could forgive Germaine this if it was a view she held thirty years ago, and after listening to transpeople and those for whom the gender binary just does not fit, she could re-examine those views. After all, we’re all capable of getting things wrong and changing our minds. But some of this transphobia is recent, and even though I abhor the way Germaine is criticised on the basis of her age, the fact is this is hate speech.
I’ve loved being a girl since I knew I was one, I’ve loved messing with gender in terms of what I wear or how I cut my hair since I had control over these things. I love that I can throw seventy metres, like a girl, and do many, many other things which traditional gender roles told me I shouldn’t.
Despite my gender play, I’m comfortable in the gender I was assigned at birth. This means going to see Germaine would feel like treachery to those experiencing an oppression I’m privileged around. A very different thing, for me, than listening to an expert in challenging racism express homophobia.