You may well ask: How can someone who identifies as a trans person support an organisation which allows a person with clear and stated transphobic opinions to give a lecture?
To me it’s obvious – she is not being asked to speak about transgender issues.
Germaine Greer is an icon of the womens’ liberation movement; a product of a very ugly time in our society’s past when women were treated as little more than property, an accessory to be admired, yet not heard. Greer grew up, as all women did in those days, seeing the hatred and violence directed at the suffragettes who came before her, suffering and seeing the hatred and violence directed at her – all for nothing more than being female and daring to imagine she could have a say. Greer chose to use all of that frustration she felt as a woman living under this oppression and to direct it into making a stand.
Many of the things she has said and written have been bold, confronting, angry and made her the target of hatred from almost every male who heard about it. This seemed to make her only more staunch in her views. I don’t agree with a lot of the things she says and yet I respect Germaine Greer for what she has done and the voices she has allowed to be heard.
Like many heroes of a time and of a moment, however, Germaine Greer is not perfect. Obviously for all of you people who are flawless of character, this must seem strange. Greer harbours many opinions which, though they allowed her to focus and drive through the ocean of negativity she had to navigate during the infancy of feminism as we know it, they have no place in the world today. Greer’s belief in herself and her bravery in the face of untold opposition is what has made her a hero of feminism and she will not change her stripes today just because a comparatively small number of people demand that she do so.
I don’t believe Germaine Greer will ever change her opinion of trans women (though it would be interesting to know her views on trans men). From what I derive from her stance, she believes that to be a woman, one must face the challenge of being a woman from birth – make your way through sexism, the absurd expectations of society that you must “look your best” all the bloody time, menstruation – all of the challenges faced only by those who grow up female.
Though I may not agree with it, I actually understand this argument. I don’t believe that being born with a vagina necessarily makes you a woman (there are many exceptions to this rule), but I understand that very, very few trans women could possibly understand what it truly is to be born as and grow up as a female.
Equally, though, very, very few people born female could understand what it truly is to be born in a gender you do not identify with and face the hate, violence and negativity which so sadly often accompanies the lives of trans people.
In this respect trans people and women are not so very different.
In looking over all of this, you may well say “But hey – you just said her opinions have no place in the world of today!” and you’d be partially right: her stance on the very existence of trans people has no place in the world of today, in fact she has not repeated her hateful opinions for decades and she said as much very recently. She is an intelligent person and I believe she realises her opinions don’t gel with today’s more open and understanding society which is why she hasn’t aired them for a very long time.
And her lecture at Cardiff University IS NOT ABOUT TRANSGENDER ISSUES – the lecture is entitled “Women & Power: The Lessons of the 20th Century“. It is a historical look over the womens’ liberation and feminist movement in the 20th century and how women have managed to fight their way to the right to vote, to legislated (if not real) equal-pay, to legislated equal rights and to the highest, most powerful jobs in the world. It is also a lecture on the work still to be done. I personally think it would be fascinating.
But now (misguided, in my opinion) activists are backing Germaine Greer against an opinion wall. If I know anything about Germaine Greer it is that she is at her most vocal – her most forthright when she is backed against a wall. And so she has made it clear that she has not changed her opinion of trans women. Important note: her opinion.
But if her task at the university is not to discuss transgender – why must we silence her on all subjects? In reality the trans movement only started gaining traction in the last 5 years, so it has little place in a brief university lecture about women in the 20th century!
I would absolutely support a ban on Germaine Greer if she were being asked to speak on the subject of transgender* because I feel her opinions are deeply negative, spiteful and ill-informed, but this lecture is absolutely not that. It is a lecture the subject of feminism and womens’ rights and on the history of the issue. On that subject, I think you could find few more important voices than Germaine Greer.
* Unless it were a debate because I love arguments and I also love winning them