A Politics of Inclusion or Exclusion?
I agree with Katha Pollitt regarding the overall point of her column “Dangerous Words” [Nov. 23/30]. But I don’t think Germaine Greer and other feminists should be let off the hook for the harm they’ve done to trans people over the years. No group has more to gain from the feminist movement as a whole than the transgender community. What patriarchy does to marginalize and exclude women is even worse for male-to-female transsexuals. The harm has been compounded by feminists who have attacked, dismissed, and excluded us as much as the rest of society has. For a trans person, the betrayal of these feminists hurts far more than anyone else’s. While I agree that feminists such as Greer shouldn’t be dismissed or barred from speaking, the trans community cannot simply be thrown under the bus for the convenience of everyone else.
Thanks to Katha Pollitt for her column. I’d stress three related practical points. First, long-term, effective politics (plural) are coalition politics; lines have to be drawn, but ideological purity is an impractical, impossible, and ultimately self-defeating goal. Second, if the powerful are allowed to determine who gets to speak, it’s not going to be a left message that is heard in most places; freedom of speech, with responsibility for what one says, is to be supported on the left not only because the principle is right, but because we depend on it. Third, there are real conflicts of interest and other differences on the left and within feminism; these need to be argued out civilly and without trying to silence real opponents on an issue, especially those who are mostly allies or at least co-belligerents.
R d Erlich
The only anti-Greer voice quoted in Pollitt’s column is Rachael Melhuish, the author of the petition referenced in the article. She identifies as a straight cis ally. People accused of homo- and transphobia, like Germaine Greer and Julie Bindel, are named and cited; LGBT critics of Greer and Bindel are not.
This is at least the third consecutive article published by Katha Pollitt about LGBT issues that doesn’t name or quote one single actual LGBT person. The others are “There Are No Abortion Cakes” [which appeared online April 8] and “Why Marriage Trumps Abortion” [which appeared in the May 11 issue]. In her response to a letter to the editor written about another article, “Who Has Abortions?” [March 13], Pollitt also doesn’t quote any “transgender people,” although she does reference “Julie Burkhart, founder and CEO of the South Wind Women’s Center in Wichita, Kansas.”
In the earlier two articles, straight cisgender people supporting LGBT activism, such as Lauren Rankin and Kirsten Clodfelter, are named and quoted. Actual LGBT people are simply referred to as “transgender-rights activists” or “trans men” or “LGBT people,” and their words are never quoted. (And in cases like Pollitt’s reference to the “front hole” in her article about gender-neutral abortion language, they are paraphrased in highly misleading and tone-deaf ways.) Pollitt didn’t even bother to ask any gay women how they saw gay rights versus reproductive rights when she wrote a point-by-point comparison of the two, saying—go figure—that gay rights weren’t as significant!
I don’t know if Pollitt is aware of what she’s doing here, but it’s a really disturbing and striking tendency. If a man repeatedly opined about “women’s issues” without quoting one actual woman, she’d notice. If he consistently wrote “pro-choice feminists say” on the one hand and “commentator and journalist Ross Douthat told me” on the other, she’d notice. I think your editors would notice.
Please bring this to Pollitt’s attention and ask her why she doesn’t feel the need to provide genuine coverage of LGBT people’s opinions even as she criticizes them. Pollitt can find LGBT people writing on all of these issues; some of them even have bylines nowadays. Monica Roberts, Julia Serano, Amanda Kerri, Imani Henry, Ryka Aoki, Charlie Anders, Dean Spade, S. Bear Bergman, and Autumn Sandeen are just a few examples.
I would really like to know why this disparity is acceptable.
A column is not a piece of straight reporting; it’s a blend of reporting, opinion, and argument. The point is not to present all sides of an issue equally and neutrally, as in a news story, but to set out the writer’s own views in her own way. This is what Nation columnists have always done. Nobody expected my late colleague Alexander Cockburn to interview supporters of gun control or admirers of Bill Clinton. Nonetheless, he probably should have done so, since those were topics he wrote about a lot. I want my column to be as fair and as strongly argued as possible, so I’m taking Jess White’s critique seriously. She has a point.
Heir Apparent Errant?
With regard to John Nichols’s article “Democratic Socialism: An Old American Tradition” [Nov. 23/30], your readers should know that both Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas ran for president on the Socialist Party ticket, advocating the public ownership of industry, banking, etc. They would not have been caught dead running as a Democrat, like Bernie Sanders. In 1912, Debs ran as a Socialist against the Democratic, Republican, and Progressive parties. The Progressive Party’s platform was quite radical for its time, but not radical enough for Debs, who sought the abolition of capitalism, not its reform.
Does anyone doubt that, if Sanders loses the Democratic nomination, he will throw his support to Hillary Clinton and make no effort to organize a third party? I do not fault Sanders for his choices; they may be realistic. But I do fault The Nation for pretending that Bernie Sanders is a lineal descendant of Debs and Thomas.
Planet of the Anthropocentric
Is it really the “Last Chance for Planet Earth?” as the headline declares [Nov. 23/30]? Oh, the ego! The planet will last about 5 billion more years, until the sun becomes a red giant—it’s just that people won’t. Earth doesn’t really care.
Meantime, I thoroughly enjoy your magazine. Keep on keepin’ on.