Rebuttal of Socialist Review editorial

A letter was recently published by Socialist Review challenging the content of an article by Laura Miles “The War on Trans”. The letter was edited for publication and we reproduce it here:

“Clearly, attacks from the right on LGBT rights must be resisted, as Laura Miles says (“The war on trans”, January SR).

However, the potential erasure of “women” and “lesbian” as categories are real issues which are worthy of discussion. There are far reaching medical and social issues associated with self-ID, especially for children.

Laura suggests that A Woman’s Place UK (WPUK) is transphobic; it is not. WPUK was set up on a clear platform of respectful discussion, and to ensure that women’s voices are heard in the debate; “nothing about us without us” and “sex matters” are two of the principles, as their website confirms.

It is indeed unfortunate that it has been largely the right wing and liberal press that has enabled the views of gender critical socialists to be heard.

WPUK has been targeted by activists — the accusations are very well documented and include a bomb threat and the targeting of venues where WPUK holds its meetings across the country. WPUK has had to organise its meetings with venues announced on the day because of systematic harassment. Several meetings have had to move at very short notice. To suggest that the accusations of silencing are “unfounded” is just wrong.

No-platforming of speakers is a tactic and objective which I hope all readers of SR would agree should be reserved for Nazis and the far right. The attempt to conflate socialist feminists with the far right is shocking and has had a polarising effect.

The move towards the use of absurd neologisms such as “uterus owner” and “menstruator” has serious implications for public health.

Finally, on gender: there is a very clear distinction between sexual orientation (who you find attractive) and gender, which is socially constructed (as Laura says, expectations and material circumstances) and is in many cases coincident with sex.

None of this is to argue that the oppressed cannot “express their…gender identity” — far from it. I’d prefer to say that we can all express ourselves as we wish. In my case, biological female, but no holds barred on the way I behave.

But labelling socialists and feminists “transphobic” for wanting to talk is, in my view, deeply reactionary.

You can read the original letter as it was submitted here.

The letter was followed by an editorial which said:

Socialist Review can agree with Sybil that no platforming is not a tactic that should be used against trans critical groups such as WPUK, as we have made clear in previous articles.

However, we have to disagree when she claims that WPUK simply want to have a “debate”. They are using their platforms to undermine support for self-identification and non-binary inclusion in official data. For many trans people and trans rights supporters that in itself is evidence of transphobia.

Speakers on WPUK platforms have made transphobic comments, which have gone unchallenged.

Finally, there is not a word in Sybil’s letter about the impact on trans oppression of the campaign WPUK is running, or an acknowledgment of how it has helped fuel the rise in transphobia and all the harm that is causing to trans people.

We believe the comments about Woman’s Place UK made in the editorial to be untrue and defamatory.

We wrote to the editor of the Socialist Review asking them to publish the following rebuttal:

“The editor’s reply to Sybil Cock’s letter in Socialist Review 443 suggests a wilful lack of familiarity with what Woman’s Place UK (WPUK) actually does or says.

We are a group of women who assert our right to organise on the basis of our sex because that is also the basis on which women are subjected to misogynistic abuse, socially controlled, discriminated against and murdered. It hasn’t really come as a surprise to us that as a group of women choosing to speak out in public about things that matter to us that we’ve encountered a huge amount of hostility, though the utter lack of solidarity from the left was unexpected.

No one can point to any comment from WPUK or any of its representatives which can be remotely considered transphobic. We are opposed to all forms of prejudice and discrimination but we are not going to quietly sit back while essential protections for women are being eroded and rendered meaningless.”

Their reply:

“We don’t add to the letters page online in between issues, but we are happy to consider your letter for publication in the next issue of Socialist Review, which will be out at the start of March.”

The cavalier nature of this response is astonishing.

  • We did not submit our rebuttal as a letter but as a right of reply.
  • We do not think it is good enough to expect us to wait three weeks to see if Socialist Review are prepared to publish our rebuttal as a letter.
  • We cannot allow these scurrilous remarks to remain unchallenged while we wait for a decision from an editorial board which has already demonstrated its bias.

We therefore publish a fuller rebuttal of the accusations here:

“Socialist Review can agree with Sybil that no platforming is not a tactic that should be used against trans critical groups such as WPUK, as we have made clear in previous articles”

We are not a trans critical group. We are a campaign for women’s rights. We number trans people amongst our supporters. The fact Socialist Review have repeated this falsehood in several articles does little for their reputation.

“However, we have to disagree when she claims that WPUK simply want to have a “debate”. They are using their platforms to undermine support for self-identification and non-binary inclusion in official data”

We are ensuring women’s voices are heard in a public consultation that claims to be actively seeking to ensure all perspectives are heard. We believe that a move to self-identification could undermine women’s legally established sex-based rights and we are calling on the government to carry out a full impact assessment, which they are legally obliged to do.

We believe it is essential that sex-based data continues to be collected and analysed to ensure proper provision of services and monitoring of discrimination. The Scottish Culture Committee clearly agree with us as you will see if you read their recommendations on the Scottish Census.

“Speakers on WPUK platforms have made transphobic comments, which have gone unchallenged”

This is completely untrue.

No evidence is given for this claim.

Films of our speakers are on our YouTube channel.

“Finally, there is not a word in Sybil’s letter about the impact on trans oppression of the campaign WPUK is running, or an acknowledgment of how it has helped fuel the rise in transphobia and all the harm that is causing to trans people.”

Perhaps because there is no evidence to substantiate such a claim.

We utterly reject that accusation that our campaign has fuelled a rise in transphobia and the evidence refutes it.

We assert the right of women to self-organise and speak up for their rights.

We believe that this discussion should have been facilitated by the Left and we deeply regret its failure to do so.

We have maintained a clear, calm position on women’s rights and worked respectfully to ensure that the voices of women are heard.

Socialist Review offer no evidence of anything we have done or said that has harmed trans people and we absolutely reject the accusation.

Red Pepper

This is not the first time that a magazine of the UK Left has published scurrilous claims about us and refused to give us a rebuttal.

In December 2017, Red Pepper magazine published an article by Ros Kaveney which made comments we believed to be defamatory.

We wrote to Red Pepper and asked for a right of reply but were refused.

You can see the statement we put on Facebook at the time.

We have been disappointed in the quality of inquiry and debate on the Left around this issue and the lack of understanding of feminism and women’s rights. We had hoped that there were signs of movement recently but this latest refusal of Socialist Review to publish our rebuttal shows that we all have a long way to go.

9th February 2019