A drink is hurled – or was it an id badge? A speaker quits the stage in tears (but returns in time for the final round-up). Recriminations follow Julie Bindel’s appearance at Queer Question Time.
Friday at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern was a night of hissy fits and tantrums, high emotions, and over-loud heckling and it was all the fault of a bunch of uppity transwomen/Julie Bindel: delete as applicable. The excitement continued into Sunday’s press, with Bea Campbell entering the lists on the Guardian comment pages to condemn the no-platforming of Julie Bindel, and blogger CL Minou hitting back on Monday to argue the opposite.
Minou likens Bindel’s views on transsexuals to the diatribes of anti-gay bigots, pulling out principles from Bindel’s own writing that appear to be selectively applied by her on behalf of women – but not transwomen. Campbell accuses the NUS Women’s Campaign – who have banned Bindel from a number of platforms – of showing “no solidarity with women who are offended by the presence in their safe spaces of people who used to be men telling them which women they may listen to and who qualifies as queer”.
The latter point is a little footloose, as Bindel herself has argued variously that she is not queer and that “queer” is “anyone who is into kinky sex”.
For all this, however, there is a serious debate to be had around whether it is right that a supposedly progressive gender politics movement is turning on one of its own and barring her from public platforms. In this context, it is the NUS ban that is rather more serious than the scuffling last Friday.
Queer Question Time is an occasional event to which prominent personalities are invited to discuss topical affairs with a LGBT slant. It takes place in the Royal Vauxhall Tavern which has a reputation as one of the more queer-friendly spaces in London.
Julie Bindel would always be a controversial choice, given that her views not only include statements suggesting that transwomen should be “re-educated”, but also the claim that lesbianism is a lifestyle choice and that gay men have just as much male privilege as straight men. The latter point was ironically underscored by one suitably male gay dissenter at QQT who first heckled Ms Bindel – then proved her point by turning and physically intimidating another female member of the audience.
The main demonstration against Ms Bindel in Vauxhall was a broadly good-natured event, staged by around 40 transgendered men and women, plus cis supporters, who stood outside, drank coffee, shared doughnuts with the police and handed out leaflets. Their publicly expressed objection to Ms Bindel was not that she had a platform at all, but that the organisers of QQT had decided to allow Ms Bindel into an otherwise queer-friendly space.
At risk of evoking Godwin’s law, some demonstrators reckoned that inviting an individual whose politics appeared to deny their very right to exist was about as appropriate as inviting Nick Griffin to address a group of Holocause survivors: tactless and regrettable.
They do have a point, and by and large, the demonstrators acted with dignity. The ruckus that unfolded inside was due to a motley assortment of dissenters who objected to Bindel for a veritable rainbow of causes, combined with a failure by the event organisers, who seem to have actively courted controversy, to put in place the requisite security to deal with that controversy when it came calling.
Even so, we should be treading carefully. Julie Bindel has done much that is positive, ground-breaking and inspiring on behalf of the lesbian and gay movement. She is a staunch defender of women’s causes.
Undoubtedly there are spaces, audiences, where Julie’s positions offend: where they go beyond offence, and shade into hurtfulness. Even so: does that merit the NUS Women’s Conference deciding no more to share a platform with her? As Bea Campbell writes in her defence: “Offensiveness is a discourse shared by both politics and comedy”.
To my immense surprise, I find myself nodding in agreement. It is, of course, the ultimate irony that many of Bindel’s supporters have done so much to make offence a ground for banishment. But that is never a position I have greatly liked – and this instance illustrates perfectly the problems it throws up.
Bindel is still controversial, still a very real threat for any and every member of the trans community. I do believe there are places and spaces where, out of courtesy to those who will be present, she would be better not to go: but a general ban? No way.
Jane Fae also writes as John Ozimek. Her blog can be found at janefae.wordpress.com