The Spectator and Media Transphobia

The next time you hear transphobes claiming that their bigotry is born from a desire to “stand up for women”, simply point to their allies. It’s hard to imagine, say, Black Lives Matter running a joint event with UKIP, or Stonewall being bankrolled by the Coalition for Marriage. And yet so-called “feminists” are happy to join forces with those who actively work against the rights of women.

Noted British anti-transgender activist Posie Parker recently paid a visit to the United States, along with many others from ‘Standing for Women’. The trip involved a meeting with representatives of the Heritage Foundation, a homophobic, anti-abortion organisation with strong links to the Trump administration. In theory, the views of the foundation should be antithetical to Parker’s feminism, and in fact one of her fellow attendees broke ranks to criticise Heritage’s role in the visit.

The Spectator’s US site ran a piece on the trip, and on Parker and her allies, at the end of January. Presumably this article would take her to task for buddying up with Heritage, and question what many might call her hypocrisy in doing so. That would at least give her the chance to state her case and justify WoLF’s relationship with the Christian right. Except that Cockburn’s article doesn’t even pretend to be balanced, or at least to fairly represent the views of Parker’s opponents whilst still ultimately taking her side. It is in fact a full-on, shameless puff piece.

“Have you heard of Posie Parker?” the article begins, rhetorically. “She’s a 5 ft 1 mum of four from Wiltshire, England who looks an awful lot like Marilyn Monroe and has a truly radical belief – that the definition of ‘woman’ is the one that which [sic] appears in the Google dictionary: adult human female.”

I’m quoting this opening paragraph for three reasons. Firstly, because “the one that which appears in the Google dictionary” is such an awful construction that it makes even my writing appear good by comparison [too self deprecating! – Ed]. Secondly, because this fawning description contrasts noticeably with the later summation of one of Parker’s critics as a “notorious clinical activist”. But mainly because most reputable linguists will tell you that the purpose of a dictionary isn’t to dictate the ‘correct’ use of language, and googling “definition of woman” is one of the weakest possible ways to make an argument.

The writer then goes on to tell us about Parker’s friends, including “Venice Allan, kicked out of the British Labour Party for saying that only females can be women”. Allan was suspended by Labour in early 2018 for a number of reasons, at least partly as a result of her tweeting a picture of one of the party’s women’s officers she had surreptitiously taken at a Christmas event. The subject of the photograph in question was the 19-year-old trans woman Lily Madigan, who had already faced a great deal of online harassment simply for being trans. Allan later left the party of her own accord.

We won’t dwell on the next ten paragraphs, but suffice to say Cockburn allows Parker et al. plenty of room to present her ideas without question. (She also refers to a trans woman who attended the meeting as a “transgender spy”, a job title of which I am incredibly jealous.) We’re going to focus on Cockburn’s coverage of the trip’s most notorious event: when Parker livestreamed herself and her friend Julia Long interrupting a trans woman during a meeting to harass and misgender her.

As Cockburn puts it: “[Sarah] McBride is a transgender activist […] [who] lobbies the government to advance the Equality Act.” Astonishingly, and without a hint of irony, the exact same paragraph tells us that Parker had just been meeting with “Congress people” – curiously this isn’t described as “lobbying”, which is presumably an oversight. “On behalf of every woman, parent and child suffering under the madness of gender identity ideology […] Posie and Julia took their chance confronted McBride.” I’ll leave you to decide whether the gushing admiration or the terrible grammar are the most upsetting part of this sentence.

This wasn’t harassment, the Spectator assures us, it just “wasn’t very polite”. Presumably they’d say the same if McBride had shouted questions at them during one of their lobb- sorry, meetings. “I am bewildered by the characterization of us being in a position of power and influence […] We were in the corridors of the Senate building”. The Spectator has a weekly circulation of nearly 80,000 (according to Wikipedia), has 138,000 Twitter followers, is chaired by one of the BBC’s senior political journalists, and has two former editors who went on to join the cabinet. Clearly, Parker has high standards for “power and influence”.

Transphobes often bemoan the dominance of the “transgender lobby” in the media, so I’m sure they’ll be grateful to the Spectator for being the only outlet willing to publish their views. The only outlet, that is, apart from the Guardian, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Sun, Mirror, Times, Daily Express, Daily Star, Evening Standard, Metro, multiple regional and local papers and a few more publications besides. It’s a wonder they ever manage to get people to listen.

Correction 20/2/19: The original version of this article stated that Posie Parker received funding from the Heritage Foundation. This was a misunderstanding on our part. She simply met with representatives of the the Heritage Foundation. The text has been changed to reflect this error.