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Greer stomps on my fragile freedoms

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Australian writer Germaine Greer

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Australian writer Germaine Greer

Australian feminist Germaine Greer will be speaking at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on May 14. When I heard about this, I felt angry, then I just felt sad. I'm a feminist, too. But I'm also a transsexual woman. So what I didn't feel was surprised.

Greer is speaking as part of the museum's lecture series, Fragile Freedoms: the Global Struggle for Human Rights, which has hosted famous intellectuals such as A.C. Grayling and Steven Pinker.

Greer, known for decades as an outspoken writer and academic, will be delivering a speech entitled Women and the Struggle For Human Rights.

Greer has made a career out of pinpointing misogyny in society: In her seminal 1970 text, The Female Eunuch, she argued women had been forcibly separated from their libidos and taught to hate themselves; this year she'll speak in a BBC documentary on misogyny in social media, which she describes as "this terrible grab bag of loathing of women."

Greer and I, as feminist women, agree on some core things. But Greer has also for years actively spoken against transgender people -- she doesn't think I'm a woman at all.

She campaigned against a trans woman's fellowship at a woman's college on the grounds she was really a man. She devoted a chapter of her 1999 book, The Whole Woman, to denigrating transsexuals, concluding trans women are men who, by accessing women's spaces, "do as rapists have always done" (as if trans women don't also face rape by men, which we do).

In 2009, Greer wrote in the Guardian:

"Nowadays we are all likely to meet people who think they are women, have women's names, and feminine clothes and lots of eyeshadow, who seem to us to be some kind of ghastly parody, though it isn't polite to say so... Other delusions may be challenged, but not a man's delusion that he is female."

To trans women, the notion that "it isn't polite to say so" is laughable. When I didn't pass for a cisgender woman -- a woman who identifies with her birth sex -- men threatened my life in public washrooms, they shouted slurs and threw sandwiches from apartment windows, they thought nothing of screaming at me in the street. And I felt lucky nothing worse happened.

These days, most people don't know I'm trans at first glance, and I'm lucky to have many supports in my life. Many of my sisters aren't so fortunate.

The museum has stated its inaugural content will include "gender-identity portrayal in the media," and "transgender experiences." They are installing gender-neutral washrooms.

This is commendable, but a museum purporting to welcome transgender Canadians will not succeed when they invite speakers who oppose our very existence.

Germaine Greer has never recanted her transphobia. And as my trans sister Merrill Grant noted in a letter to CMHR executives -- which I and 11 other local trans people co-signed -- it is a cruel irony that Greer speaks in a series titled Fragile Freedoms when many of us can't access comprehensive and knowledgeable health care, when we face astronomical employment discrimination and poverty and when so many of us struggle against suicide, addiction and violence.

When you're trans, you're supposed to be grateful for crumbs. You're expected to take it quietly when you're harassed, be understanding when your family stops returning calls, keep your chin up when you find yourself unemployed and not speak up when lauded thinkers say cruel and vicious things about you and your community.

Or when others who purport to be on your side, like the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, offer them a podium and thousands of dollars to speak.

When I heard Greer was coming, I was angry and sad. But I wasn't surprised. Nor am I surprised others haven't spoken against her. Indeed, tickets to her speech are sold out.


Athena Thiessen is a trans woman in Winnipeg. She is the author of the forthcoming book A Safe Girl To Love written under the name Casey Plett.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 3, 2014 0


Updated on Tuesday, May 6, 2014 at 12:02 PM CDT: Corrects cutline

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