Burchillgate is no free-speech issue

Francis Sedgemore, Thursday 17 January 2013 at 16:57 UTC

On Tuesday of this week my friend Terry Glavin contributed to the debate on Suzanne Moore, Julie Burchill and anti-transgender media sentiment with a blog post that focuses on Observer editor John Mulholland’s ex-post-facto censorship of Burchill’s bigoted rant.

The paragraph from Suzanne Moore’s article which makes up the bulk of Terry’s piece is not that which kicked off the online shitstorm. Moore was criticised on Twitter by a woman who supported the general thrust of her New Statesman article, and took umbrage. She then flew off the handle with all sorts of highly offensive remarks aimed at transgender women (aka “women”).

Moore’s remarks closely resemble those of a faction of radical-feminism that has been described by other feminists as the Westboro Baptist wing of the women’s movement. Moore’s friend Julie Bindel – long known to be hostile toward transsexuality – then weighed in, and finally Burchill, quaintly described by Terry as a “delightfully cantankerous resident genius”.

Others see Burchill as a bigoted click-whore polemicist with sufficient intelligence to know exactly which buttons to push, and when. Journalist Bryan Appleyard back in 1998 got the full measure of Burchill. Appleyard may think rather highly of himself and the definitiveness of his writing, but in this case he had his subject’s psyche nailed firmly to the page.

A former subeditor for London culture rag Time Out has told me that he once objected to a specimen of Burchill’s raw copy which included the hope that pop singer Annie Lennox and her band the Eurythmics would die in a plane crash, albeit painlessly. Delightfully cantankerous indeed. Years later Lennox recalled the hurt caused by Burchill’s remark. The magazine editor regarded Burchill’s comment as entertaining knockabout stuff, and dismissed his subeditor’s protest.

Then there was the near prosecution in 2002 for race hate, when Burchill damned the entire Irish nation. But, you know, Burchill is an equal opportunities hater. She detests the Germans with a gut churning passion, and a whole load more human beings besides. Censorship be damned, but Burchillgate is no free speech issue; it is cold, hard, visceral bigotry.

When it comes to the transphobic element in Burchill’s multifarious bigotry my personal story renders me incapable of looking at it with a dispassionate eye. So I guess I should recuse myself and keep quiet about the hatred and persecution of transgender folk.

Or maybe not. The fact is that I cannot avoid the issue. For one thing I am called upon in an official capacity to contribute to a National Union of Journalists response to the furore, all the while pleading that for personal reasons I cannot look at the issue impartially. Apologies for the selfishness on my part.

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