Following an outcry, the editor of The Observer newspaper has withdrawn a column by feminist writer Julie Burchill which described transgender people as “bed-wetters in bad wigs”.
Burchill, well known in feminist and writing circles for her often controversial views, wrote the opinion piece Transsexuals should cut it out to defend her friend, writer Suzanne Moore, who she claimed had been harassed by “the trans lobby” for having written that women were expected to look like “Brazilian transsexuals”.
In the article, Burchill described the attack against Moore as akin to “being savaged by a dead sheep,” called transgender people “a bunch of dicks in chicks’ clothing” and dismissed their concerns as less important than those facing “real women”.
“To have your cock cut off and then plead special privileges as women – above natural-born women, who don’t know the meaning of suffering, apparently – is a bit like the old definition of chutzpah: the boy who killed his parents and then asked the jury for clemency on the grounds he was an orphan,” wrote Burchill.
She went on to say: “Shims, shemales, whatever you’re calling yourselves these days – don’t threaten or bully us lowly natural-born women, I warn you. We may not have as many lovely big swinging Phds as you, but we’ve experienced a lifetime of PMT and sexual harassment and many of us are now staring HRT and the menopause straight in the face – and still not flinching. Trust me, you ain’t seen nothing yet. You really won’t like us when we’re angry.”
The article was met with widespread outrage, with complaints being laid with the Press Complaints Commission. Former Minister for Equalities Lynne Featherstone described the article as “absolutely disgusting” and called for The Observer to fire Burchill and its editor.
In a comment piece published on the Guardian website, trans rights activist Roz Kaveney accused Burchill of bullying and of using hate speech.
“The basic point behind everything she says is that trans people lead essentially inauthentic existences and that hers, as a working-class novelist with a taste for lobster and champagne, is real life… Once you decide that some people’s lives are not real, it becomes OK to abuse them; for people without the outlet of writing for a national newspaper, it becomes OK to shout things in the street, or worse,” Kaveney wrote.
On Monday, John Mulholland, the editor of The Observer, issued a statement, apologising and admitting that the newspaper “got it wrong”.
“We have decided to withdraw from publication the Julie Burchill comment piece ‘Transsexuals should cut it out’. The piece was an attempt to explore contentious issues within what had become a highly-charged debate,” said Mulholland.
“The Observer is a paper which prides itself on ventilating difficult debates and airing challenging views. On this occasion we got it wrong and in light of the hurt and offence caused I apologise and have made the decision to withdraw the piece,” he said.
Writing for the Telegraph, Toby Young slated The Observer for removing the article, calling it censorship and “a disgrace,” and re-published Burchill’s column.
“Whatever you think of its politics, the Observer is a paper with a great liberal tradition. For it to muzzle one of its own journalists – albeit a freelance contributor – on the grounds that some people on the Left found her views distasteful is a betrayal of everything the paper is supposed to stand for,” wrote Young.