Several problems: “I was a protester”

Originally published 9 October 2022. Migrated to WordPress 6 November 2022.

On 9 October 2022, The Sydney Morning Herald published an article, “I was a protester — now a protest has been directed at me,” by Jon Faine (2022).

The article has several problems. Here are a few.

Headnotes

For context, the article is concerned primarily with matters pertaining to “Pride & prejudice in policy,” a panel discussion which took place at the University of Melbourne (UniMelb) on 4 October 2022. As the UniMelb event listing provides a lot of the material to which the original piece and this response refer, here’s an archive copy from the Wayback Machine (UniMelb School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, 2022).

For additional context, the author, Jon Faine, has a bit of a history, including suggesting that all Australian National Broadband Network technicians are from Southeast Asia (Supportah, 2018) and other discursive contributions which have led him to be characterised as an “shock jock” (ibid.) — fairly surprising for the ABC (!)

#1

The forum [trans ally protesters] interrupted — and tried to stop completely — was at the periphery of transgender issues …

Faine (op. cit.)

This is a curious assertion. Here’s the blurb from the University’s own event listing, in full:

On the face of it, a diversity and inclusion program and ranking index encouraging organizations to be more inclusive to gender and sexual minorities should not attract more attention or criticism than any other such initiatives (such as for race, or disability). Yet the UK’s Diversity Champions Programme and Workplace Equality Index, run by the LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall, has faced considerable scrutiny and censure, and many important public bodies have withdrawn from the initiatives.

Critics argue that the initiatives embed contested facts and values into policies, compromise public bodies’ independence and impartiality, and facilitate backdoor political lobbying.

Defenders counter that the program and index simply promote best practice in policy, and help employers to foster much-needed inclusion, support and understanding for LGBTQ+ employees. Some also see criticism of these initiatives as reflecting and reinforcing gender conservatism.

With many of our own public institutions signed up to similar initiatives — ACON’s Pride in Diversity employer support program and the Australian Workplace Equality Index — the aim of this event is to open-up a timely and balanced national conversation about the benefits, risks and tensions of these initiatives for Australia’s public institutions, and their employees.

UniMelb School of Historical and Philosophical Studies (op. cit.)

Now, I’m just a simple dickgirl, but it seems to me that this “conversation” revolves around one question: Does free speech permit observing that institutions, social groups, or spaces are transphobic, or trans-allied, when they are in fact the thing in question?

It doesn’t seem to me that that’s “at the periphery of transgender issues”. It seems to me, in fact, that it must be at the centre.

#2

It is a small example of a bigger problem. If you demand respect, then you have to give it.

Faine (op. cit.), emphasis mine

How delightful, this one is getting another outing:

Sometimes people use “respect” to mean “treating someone like a person” and sometimes they use “respect” to mean “treating someone like an authority”

and sometimes people who are used to being treated like an authority say “if you won’t respect me I won’t respect you” and they mean “if you won’t treat me like an authority I won’t treat you like a person”

tumblr user autisticabby (2015)

Because really, that’s very clearly what this is. The kind of respect which trans people “demand” is being called by their correct names and being recognised as their correct genders, as opposed to society pretending names are inborn and everyone was cis before May 2014.

Faine is suggesting here that it’s a fair exchange that to receive the respect they “demand,” trans people are also expected not to say boo when panels like the one at UniMelb discuss whether when they’re walking through a forest absolutely chock full of bear traps, they should be allowed to do so without a blindfold on.

#3

Until I started working at the ABC in 1989, I attended my share of protests. As a university student, I threw a few water bombs at the governor-general in the aftermath of the Dismissal (none of them got even remotely close), I raised my voice marching with many others over our national disgrace of race relations, and I joined in many other worthy and noble causes. I don’t mind a good protest — I consider it a signifier of a healthy democracy.

It therefore came as something of a shock this week to find myself being aggressively accused of transphobia, of creating a risk to other people’s health and safety, simply for wanting to have a discussion.

Faine (op. cit.), emphases mine

This seems like a non sequitur on a couple of levels.

Faine seems to be under the impression that because he protested at some point (the latest date he cites is 19 years before I was born) and he doesn’t mind when other people do it, it’s somehow more shocking or inappropriate that he might be protested himself? I don’t get it.

I’m in at least two demographics currently demonstrating for their own continued existence. I show up to our and others’ protests whenever my health allows. That doesn’t mean I have like … enough allyship tokens that picketing me for being, say, racist, would somehow be unfair.

#4

simply for wanting to have a discussion

Faine (op. cit.)

At the price of flagrantly violating Godwin’s law I will point out that the Wannsee Conference was also a discussion. So was the Last Supper, of course. The point is that “discussions” are perfectly capable of having consequences.

#5

The forum was called “Pride and Prejudice in Policy” and was hosted by the School of History and Philosophy of Science within the Arts Faculty of the University of Melbourne. Hardly a hotbed of reactionary or conservative thinking — quite the contrary.

Faine (op. cit.), emphasis mine

[stifled mirth]

The School of History and Philosophy of Science counts among its faculty Professor Cordelia Fine, who favoured us all with a particularly … er, piquant essay in The Monthly of October 2021 (Fine, 2021), about which I have bitched on this website before (Moreton, 2022c, s 2).

UniMelb’s faculty also includes Dr Holly Lawford-Smith, associate professor of political philosophy, known (Weinberg, 2021) for No Conflict, They Said, an exercise in activism theatre consisting of the functionally unmoderated gathering of fictional anti-transfeminine smears on the pretext of documenting “the impacts on [cis] women of [trans women] using women-only spaces”.

UniMelb includes among its student body Alison Clayton, a member of the Society for Evidence-based Gender Medicine (Clayton, 2022), the professional central committee of anti-trans mass organisation Genspect (Moore, 2021). Clayton has also been published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, conversion therapist Kenneth Zucker’s occasionally-peer-reviewed journal and bully pulpit (Carey, 2012; James, n.d.), spinning 100%-evidence-backed gender-affirming top surgery as “dangerous medicine” (Clayton, 2021).

I don’t normally go “Oh, this institution has a problematic student, that reflects on the school as a whole, we’ve got them now, hohoho!”, except that, for whatever reason, Clayton seems to consider her activism to be something she does in her capacity at UniMelb. For instance, Clayton joined Fine and two others from UniMelb in signing a 2021 open letter in support of Kathleen Stock (herself discussed elsewhere in this piece) and did so specifically as an affiliate of the School (Kaufman, 2021/2022).

Finally, the School’s honorary staff include Professor Sheila Jeffreys, well-known among the trans community for what we will politely call her outspoken views, which are well-summarised by the abstract of one of her papers:

Feminist analysis of transsexualism … has seen it as a deeply conservative phenomenon in which surgical mutilation is employed to maintain the genders of male dominance and female subordination. Transsexualism has a new face … in “transgenderism” which employs queer and postmodern theory to render transsexualism progressive. … “transgenderism” is also deeply problematic from a feminist perspective and … transsexualism should be seen as a violation of human rights.

Jeffreys (2008)

Now, of course, if a veteran of Our ABC says that the University of Melbourne is not a hotbed of reactionary or conservative thinking then as a good citizen I really have no choice but to believe him, countervailing evidence be damned, but presumably one can see how a different understanding could have been arrived at.

#6

The forum was a discussion about how diversity benchmark programs work.

Faine (op. cit.)

And the Dismissal was a discussion between Malcolm Fraser, John Kerr, and Gough Whitlam about how the Australian Government worked, specifically about who would be prime minister of Australia. I can’t see how Faine could reasonably have objected to that.

Seriously — anything done solely through the use of words by one or more parties can be characterised as a discussion. That doesn’t mean that such a characterisation is honest or fair.

#7

Nobody was questioning gender dysphoria itself.

Faine (op. cit.)

This is the publisher blurb for Material Girls by Kathleen Stock, one of the video presenters enlisted for the panel:

Material Girls is a timely and trenchant critique of the influential theory that we all have an inner feeling about our sex, known as a gender identity, and that this feeling is more socially significant than our biological sex.

Professor Kathleen Stock surveys the philosophical ideas that led to this point, and closely interrogates each one, from De Beauvoir’s statement that, ‘One is not born, but rather becomes a woman’ (an assertion she contends has been misinterpreted and repurposed), to Judith Butler’s claim that language creates biological reality, rather than describing it. She looks at biological sex in a range of important contexts, including women-only spaces and resources, healthcare, epidemiology, political organization and data collection.

Hachette (n.d.)

I suppose we’d better not let Stock know that “nobody was questioning gender dysphoria”. She’d be heartbroken.

#8

But apparently some trans activists believe that even discussing benchmarking is to be equated with being transphobic.

Faine (op. cit.)

Anti-trans pressure groups seem to believe so, which is why they keep trying to “discuss benchmarking” explicitly as a vehicle to be transphobic. For example, the UK’s misleadingly-named Safe Schools Alliance, an anti-trans pressure group, are known for being absolutely fixated on the claim that being part of LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme definitively meant the Crown Prosecution Service was biased. They were so fixated on it, in fact, that they escalated all the way to HM High Court of Justice for England and Wales, where they got thrown out on the grounds that their claim blatantly could not stand up to any judicial examination whatsoever (Parsons, 2021).

Of course, this is only one of multiple anti-trans legal actions which have targeted the Diversity Champions scheme for no clear reason beyond “it exists”. Around the same time, For Women Scotland, another anti-trans group of dubious provenance, started claiming that by pointing out that the Equality Act 2010 protects trans people, Stonewall was actually inciting people to violate it. We know this because their collaborators at The Sunday Times gleefully reported on it in autofellatingly extensive detail (Macaskill, 2021).

Weirdly, despite the fact that the legal rationale behind these efforts is shaky enough that they can’t survive the British equivalent of a district court, HM Government’s Equality and Human Rights Commission used them as an excuse to do what it had been under pressure to do for some time and exit the Diversity Champions scheme (McManus, 2021). Getting the human rights watchdog to decide it’s not actually all that interested in human rights — “just discussing” indeed!

#9

Not one word undermining the lived experience of transgender and gender-diverse people was uttered at the forum — nor was ever going to be.

Faine (op. cit.)

Understandable mistake, though, given who was on the panel.

Linda Gale is the former acting convenor of the Australian Greens Victoria, known for, uh … Well, let’s put it this way, at this point in the Twitter edition of this piece, I linked to a Junkee article headlined “The Victorian Greens have been hit with another transphobia scandal” (Baj, 2022). More about Linda in a second.

Professor Alan Davison of the University of Technology Sydney, for his part is a fervent opponent of “postmodern critical theory” — an opposition which, in the case of Davison’s specific ideological strand (Sun, 2019), as in those of his fellow travelers (Wallace-Wells, 2021), is not a coherent and principled philosophical position, as such. Instead, it’s a byword for cloaking entirely vibes-based conservatism in complex technical vocabulary and an academic veneer.

Naomi Cunningham, who contributed a video presentation, is the chair of Sex Matters, a British anti-trans pressure group. Sex Matters is best known because its more prominent executive director, Maya Forstater, believes conversion therapy should be legal as long as it’s anti-trans (Forstater & Joyce, 2021).

Dr Kathleen Stock, late of the University of Sussex, was described by an open letter signed by over 600 of her colleagues in academic philosophy as

best-known in recent years for her trans-exclusionary public and academic discourse on sex and gender, especially for opposition to [amendments to*] the UK Gender Recognition Act and the importance of self-identification to establish gender identity, and for advocating that trans women should be excluded from places like women’s locker rooms or shelters.

Bettcher et al. (2021)

Finally, the whole panel was organised, according to Times Higher Education, by the aforementioned Cordelia Fine (Ross, 2022). This might have led some people to believe there was a non-zero chance that at some point, at least one word undermining the lived experience of trans and gender-diverse people might be uttered.

But no, our bad, clearly. That’s on us.

#10

“the three-person panel”

Faine (op. cit.)

Good point, Jon. Why was it a three-person panel? I’m sure when I originally heard about it, a fortnight before it took place, there were more people than that. Maybe it had something to do with someone securing the participation of Professor Sally Hines by not being entirely upfront with her about the facts:

When I agreed to take part in this event, I was unaware that it was a ‘debate’ with, as [Dr Hannah McCann] says, extreme anti-trans activists, or that it had such a specific focus on trans inclusion in LGBT EDI [equality, diversity and inclusion] policy in HE [higher education]. I am no longer taking part.

Hines (2022)

As well as Hines, other withdrawals included Nicki Elkin from LGBTQ+ health promotion charity ACON, and the moderator, Paul Barclay, who was replaced by … you, Jon (Thomas, 2022). So you knew all of this already and didn’t mention it. Why was that, I wonder?

#11

To try to stop the forum from even being held, to yell at Peters that she is not allowed to discuss her lived experience — because doing so might be harmful to people who are not even there — is bordering on the absurd.

Faine (op. cit.)

lol.

Interesting that Faine pushes a woman in front of him to serve as a meat shield by claiming all of the criticism was actually directed at her. Bit unchivalrous, innit.

#12

[Linda Gale] was this year removed … after trans lobbyists objected

Faine (op. cit.)

I’ve noted before that Ninefax opinion writers really love the flexibility of the word after, and what it allows them to do (Moreton, 2022b*).

Given that what we know is actually when Linda Gale was removed, why was she able to be removed? — Oh yeah, it was because her election was mysteriously conducted in an irregular way which prevented anyone from finding out about her views:

Earlier this week, I took action under the party’s rules to have our recent election for convenor set aside, as the rules for the election weren’t followed correctly. Specifically, candidates weren’t given the opportunity to communicate with members about their candidacy. […]

Ratnam (2022)

#13

It’s hard to comprehend how a life-long feminist leftie … could be described as transphobic

Faine (op. cit.)

Oh, I don’t know, I think I have some idea (Moreton, 2022a*).

#14

But a respectful and sensitive discussion of issues that can be a major influence on our community must never be declared off limits.

Faine (op. cit.), emphasis mine

Damn right. When I want a respectful and sensitive discussion, I invite Linda Gale, Kathleen Stock, the Sex Matters lady, and Mr If-critical-theory-has-one-hater,-that-hater-is-me.

Trans people make up maybe half a percent of the population. It’d be a lot cooler if there were more of us, but the reality is that there is precisely one way our issues come to the attention of the broader community. Namely, as García & Badge (2021) prove in both bleak and vivid detail, it happens because the media moguls who believe they own the community hate the shit out of us, and they want the people they think they own to hate us too. Data from Islan (2022a–q), of the United Kingdom, demonstrates how absurdly hostile it is only a few more steps down the road we’re already on.

There certainly is a faction concerned with trans issues that wants more “influence over our community”. Naomi Cunningham, Cordelia Fine, Linda Gale, and Kathleen Stock are in that faction — and when it comes to getting that influence, they’ll climb over as many broken bodies as it takes.

#15

Attacking your friends does not help in the battle against real enemies.

Faine (op. cit.)

Which is why this article is not about Julie Peters, no matter how desperate Jon Faine is to use her as an ideological hostage.

#16

the champions of diversity must show they can embrace a diversity of opinion, too.

Faine (op. cit.)

Ah, the paradox of tolerance. It never gets old — which I suppose given how this decade has panned out so far is something it will have more and more in common with trans people.


* Denotes a citation to a Twitter thread I hadn’t migrated when I wrote this piece. To be removed later.


References

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Islan, H. [@mimmymum] (2022f, October 8). So who is publishing all of those articles on trans topics? It’s interesting to note that in previous years it … [Tweet]. Twitter (via Archive Today).

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Islan, H. [@mimmymum] (2022i, October 8). Since Jan 2020 there have been 10,101 articles published by the UK mainstream media on trans topics – that’s nearly TWICE … [Tweet]. Twitter (via Archive Today).

Islan, H. [@mimmymum] (2022j, October 8). Over 38% of all (10,101) articles on trans topics in the UK media over the last 33 months have been … [Tweet]. Twitter (via Archive Today).

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Islan, H. [@mimmymum] (2022l, October 8). We can see that in the week of 11/7/2022 that The Daily Mail, Times and Telegraph published 123 … [Tweet]. Twitter (via Archive Today).

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Supportah (2018, August 20). ABC shock jock refuses to apologise for racist comments. Thadilly Pty Ltd.

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Wallace-Wells, B. (2021, June 10). What do conservatives fear about critical race theory?. The New Yorker.

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