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Bending gender rules for solidarity

Date

Whether you were were born one or identify as one, women need to stick together, Suzanne Moore writes

Illustration: Robin Cowcher

Illustration: Robin Cowcher

I only had sex because of David Bowie. It would have been better if I had only had sex with David Bowie. But you can't have everything. Though, for a while, he was everything. In that paleolithic period when we gathered round the TV to watch Top of the Pops, my mum would say ''Christ, is it a boy or a girl?'' every time he appeared. My grandad, who was deaf (so we always had the TV at full volume), was particularly perturbed by Bryan Ferry. ''It's a woman, you stupid woman!'' he would yell at my mother.

In real life, however, the working-class lads I knew were starting to wear make-up, and I was starting to fancy them. So thank you, David, for the new Robert Wyatt-esque single, and thank you for making me sexually confused. And aroused. Bisexuality! Whoah! You could do it with anyone. Civilisation would fall as a result. Well, it didn't. We moved on. Gayness was still closeted and shameful. It took guts. It still does.

Some of the gutsiest people I met were the transsexuals who worked in a club called Boys will be Girls in New Orleans. I was a waitress and I served them breakfast and they were so kind to me. Many had had botched surgery in Morocco and their lives were more than difficult.

Later on, I would go to university and do a lot of queer studies, embracing at various stages porn, S&M, gender dissonance. It was all very postmodern. Anyone could be anything. In theory. And the theory was Judith Butler, Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva, Leo Bersani and those guys. Gender, we thought, was just a performance, a social construct, though no one ever explained why we are compelled to repeat the same performance over and over. I had a baby, which was somehow more than ''performative''. Others I knew had sex changes. Or transitioning, as it is now called. Mostly this seemed to be an obsession with secondary sexual characteristics: peeing sitting down if they had been a man, wearing horrible lumberjack shirts and refusing to wash up if they had been a woman. The radical fluidity of gender vaporised. Some trans people appeared to reinforce every gender stereotype going.

To say this, though, is apparently controversial. This week, in an essay reprinted in the New Statesman magazine about female anger, I used the throwaway line that the desired body for women is that of ''a Brazilian transsexual''. For this I have been attacked on Twitter for ''transphobia''. I made it worse - well why not? - by saying that I don't like the word. I don't think it adds to our understanding of the complex webs of hatred it invokes, but instead closes down discussion.

The same with ''intersectionality'', the new buzzword. Though not that new: I know my bell hooks. It means we must understand our own privilege: the multiple oppressions of race, class, culture and sexuality. I speak as a white woman of privilege, though I was indeed born in the wrong body. It should have been Gisele Bundchen's.

Intersectionality is good in theory, though in practice, it means no one can speak for anyone else. It is the dead-end where much queer politics, feminist politics and identity politics ends up. In its own rectum. It refuses to engage with many other political discourses and becomes the old hierarchy of oppression.

What I was actually talking about was the way that women should be more angry about what is happening to us. I believe in anger. Everything I wanted for my daughters and yours is being denied them: housing, free education, employment. It makes me nauseous to see the feckless elite kick single parents in the face. It makes me ill that meritocracy is the ruling-class myth, that policy is not about economics but rancid ideology. I wanted to say again that feminism is not a white, middle-class concern: look at Sierra Leone, Egypt, India.

When I say ''women'', I don't much care if you were born or became one. I am with RuPaul: ''Honey, we are born naked, the rest is drag.'' What I do care about is something that is deeply old-fashioned: solidarity. I may not be your colour or your culture, or share your sexual preferences, but open your eyes to what we need to do. This is not some glitch in the uber-sexual matrix; in my country, Britain, the current government makes Thatcher look tame. The boot is in your face if you are not one of them.

In Iceland, they put bankers in prison for fraud. Here, we give them knighthoods. So to be told that I hate transgendered people feels a little … irrelevant. Other people's genital arrangements are less interesting to me than the breakdown of the social contract.

''Where are we now?'' sings Bowie. A very long way from the days when we all felt that his very being was a pathway to freedom.

>> Suzanne Moore is a columnist with Britain's Guardian newspaper.

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