To the authors of the open letter demanding the cancellation of Jenni Murray’s appearance at Leeds Literature Festival this weekend.

Dear TransLeeds, Non-Binary Leeds, Yorkshire Mesmac and all the signatories to this open letter:

I’ve just read your open letter in which you accuse journalist Jenni Murray of transphobic hate. I wanted to take a moment to say hello and to let you know that what you’re doing is not going to work. I don’t mean that you won’t succeed in getting Jenni Murray’s appearance at Leeds Literature Festival cancelled. Maybe you will. I mean the bigger argument — the debate. The debate that you say must not happen.

You’re losing it.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but fewer and fewer people are listening to you. Not quite nobody — you still have an audience of sorts. But it’s shrinking continually, and with each attempt to prevent women from thinking and talking it shrinks further.

The words you’ve relied on to scare people into silence are starting to fail. You’ve broken them by misusing them.

Hate, for example. Here’s a dictionary definition:

intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury

‘Hate’ is a terrible, destructive force. It can ruin lives — at its most intense, it can be the fuel that propels warfare. There are people who hate lesbians and gay people, trans people, Muslims, black people…and women. Real hatred can be dangerous.

But that’s not what you mean when you accuse Jenni Murray of hating trans people, is it?

You know Murray doesn’t hate trans people. You’ve read her 2017 article in The Sunday Times — you’ve heard her on the radio. You know what hate looks and sounds like every bit as much as the rest of us and you know it’s not truthful to accuse Murray.

No, what you mean when you accuse Murray of hatred is that Jenni Murray is a woman who doesn’t agree with you.

You don’t like it when people disagree with you, or rather, when women disagree with you. Women who have something to say which doesn’t fit with your fixed world view. Women who won’t agree that you have the right to define what a woman is for the whole of society.

You think that yelling ‘hate’ and ‘transphobia’ is going to scare everyone into silence. For a while, these tactics have had some success. Just last year the grassroots feminist group Woman’s Place UK was prevented from meeting at Leeds Civic Hall when the room booking was cancelled by the council. I know that some of the people involved in this week’s open letter were involved in that campaign to stop women meeting and discussing their rights.


In your letter you insist that ‘there is no debate as to whether trans women are women’.

But there is a debate taking place all over the UK, on social media and in real life. Thousands of people are taking part — women, an increasing number of men, and trans people too. For the most part, we’re managing to have it respectfully and constructively. We are thinking and talking about sex and gender, about what our LGBT politics should be in the future, about how women’s sex-based rights and protections can be preserved, about how the damage wreaked by binary gender can be mitigated.

You don’t like this debate because it does not proceed from the principle ‘trans women are women’. Rather than seek to persuade us that we’re mistaken, you fling abuse. You misuse words — words that really matter, like ‘hate’. You try to delegitimise the voices you disagree with by tainting them with accusations of transphobia.

You claim to know the truth of what a woman is, but you appear to have little empathy for women themselves. The generosity and thoughtfulness which sing through Murray’s 2017 article — and which characterise her journalistic career — are not to be found in your open letter.

That is a huge shame.


It’s not too late to turn things around and think more deeply about how you want to put your ideas out into the world, how you want to influence other people.

The debate you seek to prevent is happening.

You could play a part in it. On the other hand, you could continue with these totalitarian tantrums, in which case the conversation will move on without you.


Postscript:

Leeds Lit Festival’s event with Jenni Murray went ahead as planned. It was sold out and a small protest took place outside the library.