It should say a lot that I’ve lived in Cambridge for just a single term and am already aware of the fact that the Union Society has a history of closing its ears to the voices (and to the safety concerns) of students at Cambridge. The invitations of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Julian Assange in past years are particularly striking; in both cases, Cambridge students disagreed with the Union providing a platform to accused rapists and – importantly – the effect that this might have on vulnerable students. In both cases, widespread protests were largely ignored or brushed off. It’s also common knowledge that the overwhelming majority of speakers at the Union tend to be straight, cisgender, white, middle-class men. This needs to change; that much is clear, and the Union knows it. We need more diverse speakers. We need more female speakers. Somewhere along the line, though, some wonderfully enlightened person decided that the best way to do this was to invite radical feminist and unapologetic transmisogynist, Germaine Greer.
For those who are not already aware, Germaine Greer believes, purely and simply, that trans women (women whose gender was assigned male at birth) are not women. She describes them in her book The Whole Woman as “men who believe that they are women and have had themselves castrated.” In her twisted and misinformed view, trans women are “wannabe women;” “man-made women.” In 2009, she wrote a piece for the Guardian (which has since been removed from the paper’s website) describing trans women as “delusion[al]” and “a ghastly parody.” These views are not merely contentious; they are violent. They are harmful. And they cannot be tolerated or given a platform in a university that has a duty to protect every student including its trans students.
The Facebook event for Germaine Greer’s appearance at the Union innocently describes her as having “received her PhD from Newnham College, Cambridge, later becoming a special lecturer and fellow of Newnham from 1989 to 1996.” The event description does not, however, note the reason for which Greer is no longer a fellow of Newnham College. In 1996, Greer resigned from her position following an unsuccessful campaign to prevent the appointment of transgender astrophysicist Rachael Padman as a fellow at Newnham college, on the basis that appointing a trans woman as a fellow of a women’s college was unacceptable.
For the Union – which has strong links with CUSU LGBT+, who host weekly drinks and other events there – to consider it appropriate to invite an openly transmisogynistic speaker is absolutely shocking. What really puts the icing on the cis-supremacist cake, however, is that the aforementioned LGBT+ drinks are due to take place at 8pm this coming Monday, 26th January. Who else will be present in the Union whilst these drinks take place? That’s right; Germaine Greer. Transgender students are expected to be perfectly fine with the idea of sharing a space with someone who would deny them their every basic human right, someone who outspokenly and unapologetically perpetuates and encourages their oppression.
I do not want to share a building with Germaine Greer. I don’t particularly want to share a city or even a planet with her, for that matter, or with any other person who contributes to the marginalisation, oppression, and death of my trans siblings. A survey conducted in 2012 by the Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES) found that 84% of trans respondents had considered ending their lives, with 35% having made one or more suicide attempts. Worldwide, 226 people were reported as being murdered between October 2013 and November 2014 as a direct result of being transgender (and of course we can expect the real number to be much, much higher). These numbers are no coincidence. The horrific discrimination that trans people – especially trans women – face daily continues because of people who refuse to believe that the identity and personhood of a transgender person is valid. It continues precisely because of people like Germaine Greer.
There is no possible benefit to inviting Greer to speak at the Union that is not outweighed a million times by the harm her views will generate. Yes, she is – or at least she calls herself – a feminist, but her brand of feminism is not one that is welcome, acceptable, or deserving of any form of recognition or merit. CUSU Women’s Campaign have already stated plainly that “Greer does not represent feminism, and she does not represent us.” If the Union Society really is tearing their collective hair out over potential feminist speakers, I would be happy – as, I’m sure, would virtually every other female and/or LGBT+ student – to provide them with a (probably endless) list of more appropriate options. The Union is either being incredibly lazy, or deliberately contentious.
All evidence points to the latter explanation. An email was sent yesterday on behalf of the CUSU Trans Campaign, detailing various examples of Greer’s transmisogyny, comprehensive statistics and explanations of the ways in which trans people suffer from such beliefs, and a plea for her invitation to speak to be rescinded to protect the welfare of Cambridge University’s trans students. The reply was, predictably, negative. Greer’s talk will go ahead.
This response is not good enough. It’s time for people to need to sit up and take notice: trans students are tired of feeling unsafe. We are tired of members of our university disregarding our welfare by expecting us to share spaces with people who consider us subhuman. CUSU LGBT+ needs to take a stand against such negligence by boycotting drinks events and all other events due to take place in collaboration with the Union. The Union, meanwhile, needs to consider the effects of its choices upon some of the most vulnerable members of this university, and sort out its fucking priorities.