An Open Letter to Julie Birchill

Dear Julie,

Thanks for your column, published in the Observer, in which you launched into a vicious and bitter tirade against the transgendered community. To make sweeping generalisations about any group of people, as you did, is rarely wise. To attack members of the LGBT community, when you live in Brighton, hardly makes for zen neighbourliness.

I have long been a fan of your unconventional views, and courage at voicing them; but for me, as for many other members of the LGBT community, and the community at large, you crossed a line on this one and I will neither forgive, nor forget that. I doubt when you were holding court with your pen; striding across the page from your summit of superiority, you gave pause to consider the statistics that surround the T’s in our community. I expect that had you considered that nearly 50% of the trans community make at least one attempt on their own life, over the course of it, you may have been a little more considered in downloading your venom. Had you reflected that one in two members of the trans community experience discrimination or harassment at work, that a transperson is twice as likely to be unemployed as a non transperson, that 89% in a recent survey reported being the victims of hate crime, perhaps you may have chosen your words more thoughtfully.

I never believed the sticks and stones mantra, words can, and do hurt. The beauty of yours however were that they so clearly resembled a teenage rant, a vile outpouring of vitriol from a woman clearly long overdue for rehab; that it was hard to take them seriously.

I started this letter with the word thanks, and I mean that, your outpouring showed why we need to be open, and need to speak out loudly, about the experiences and challenges that the trans community face on a daily basis. Your words gave the trans community a focal point for a rallying cry. When positioned alongside the fact that Dr Curtis, the surgeon showing the NHS how transition should be done, is being pilloried by a sensationalist tabloid press interested only in publishing pictures of him as a little girl; your words, gave the trans community, their friends and lovers, children and parents, boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands and wives, something to speak to. You showed, more effectively than we ever could have done by ourselves, why we need organisations like the Hastings & Rother Rainbow Alliance, why we need a trans group in every town, how we know our fight for equality is far from over.

I would rather you hadn’t written them; rather you didn’t feel as you do, but out of your pernicious pen came a beautiful silver lining. People are starting to talk, the trans community and their friends are finding, and raising, their voices, articulating their experiences, sharing stories. A gentle revolution, created out of love, kindness, empathy, anger, and admiration is taking place. You have blown open a discussion about prejudice against the trans community that was long overdue.

I always thought you were cutting edge, you have proved me wrong and shown yourself predisposed to the prehistoric. Your words did hurt, however the backlash against them has been a pleasure to witness. Your rant has given way to a plethora of far sweeter less frequently heard voices, and for that, I am grateful to you.

Julie Eason

Co-Chair – Hastings & Rother Rainbow Alliance

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