Ethics of the self
I agree with Yves Rees that transgender stories are a valuable addition to the memoir genre. I want to learn more about transgender experiences and how they represent an ethics of the self, especially in their relations with the medical-industrial complex and those they love and relate to. However, I reject both her accusations that gender critical views such as mine are transphobic and her disrespectful use of the label TERF. To question is not a hate crime, just as it is not belittling to raise concerns about the consequences of the current trans fashion on natal women as a class.
Vivian Morrigan (online comment).
Yves Rees replies:
I am glad that Vivian Morrigan is keen to learn more about transgender experience. We all have much to gain from the stories of people unlike ourselves. Empathy, compassion, and the celebration of difference are desperately needed in the world right now.
In regard to her critique, I stand by my argument that the TERF (trans exclusionary radical feminist) position is transphobic. The TERF insistence that transwomen are not legitimate women and represent a threat to cisgender women is a hateful stance that causes real, measurable harm to the trans and gender diverse (TGD) community, transwomen in particular. TERF campaigns to exclude transwomen from ‘women-only’ spaces such as female bathrooms give rise to the idea that transwomen are predatory imposters whose presence poses a risk to others. This demonstrably false position only further stigmatises and discriminates against an already vulnerable community. Transwomen, along with all TGD peoples, experience shocking rates of mental and physical illness, suicidality, homelessness, unemployment, and violence. This is not because being trans is itself pathological but rather because TGD peoples live in a hostile and transphobic world.
Given this context, what kind of feminism would further attack and question the trans community? In my view, any feminism worth its name should prioritise solidarity between all women – whether cisgender or trans – and advocate for our most vulnerable communities, including TGD peoples. During 2019, when the Victorian parliament considered legislation (now passed) to give trans people the right to amend the sex on their birth certificate with medical intervention, local TERFs launched an extraordinary campaign in opposition to this legislation. This campaign was harnessed to legitimise The Australian’s concurrent transphobic publishing spree, and threatened the safety and well-being of TGD peoples. After transphobic stickers were installed (by an unknown person) in University of Melbourne bathrooms, trans students were given cause to question their safety on campus. My mental health suffered greatly during this TERF campaign, an experience widely shared within the Victorian TGD community.
To describe such efforts as merely ‘gender critical’ is a disingenuous euphemism, one that misrepresents hostile and harmful actions towards an already oppressed minority as reasonable and necessary critique. Furthermore, to suggest that the rising profile and incidence of TGD peoples is a mere ‘fashion’ is an extremely poor choice of words, implying that being trans is a choice or phase rather than a real and legitimate expression of human diversity. The recent vogue for adult colouring books is a fashion; being transgender is not.
Finally, I note that Morrigan misgendered me in her comment. I am not a woman, and all public information about me clearly indicates this fact. Instead I am a nonbinary trans person who uses they/them pronouns. However, Morrigan twice referred to me as ‘her’ – a disrespectful mischaracterisation, typical of the micro-aggressions and erasures that all trans people experience daily.
Australia’s dangerous global role
David Holmes’s article ‘Suddenly last summer’ is superbly written, and quite terrifying (ABR, March 2020). I live in both Melbourne and Ontario, and this story must get to Canada: Australia’s dangerous global role in the climate crisis needs to be told in, and to, the global north. The ‘Labour leadership in the climate crisis’ Canadian-funded research project, now twelve years old, has begun exchanging tactics and strategies with some Australian unions. Let there be more action, more information, more exchanges.
Carla Lipsig-Mumme, York University, Canada (online comment)
David Holmes replies:
It is indeed instructive to compare the cases of Australia and Canada, since both countries are impacted by political division around climate change, both are experiencing more extreme weather (including fire in places where it has never previously occurred), and both countries have enormous opportunities to take action.
In the weeks before Black Saturday, Canadian firefighters came to assist in the Victorian Alps. While the Spruce and Fir forests in Canada are much denser, they could not believe how much more heat was radiating from eucalypts, much of that energy released from the canopy. ‘Fuel-load reduction’ does not happen at the canopy, so preventing the severity of such fires in the future is about addressing climate change, as attribution studies have already found.
Paradoxically, many of the same politicians who are now listening closely to medical science on the coronavirus (about which little is known) ignore climate scientists on climate change (about which we know a great deal).
Jordan Prosser’s review of the film True History of the Kelly Gang led me to watch the film on Stan and to regret that the film spent so little time in cinemas. The landscape and cinematography were excellent, by far the best aspects of the film, but their impact was mitigated by the screen size. A home screen, no matter how large, cannot do such a film justice.
I wonder how many other quality films will be rushed straight on to Netflix or Stan or Disney+, and their best features thus diminished. I hope we are not about to experience the contraction of the visual scope of new films, to essentially suit only a home television screen. I hope that the rapacious competition between streaming services will not tilt new films away from grand vistas and stunning natural landscapes. And I hope that ABR will continue to review important films, whatever their source and outlet.
Michael Henry, Melbourne, Vic.
I must take issue with Michael Morley’s appraisals of perhaps the two marquee shows at this year’s Adelaide Festival, Requiem and The Doctor, both of which he reviewed for ABR Arts. I went to the latter with low expectations; it sounded exactly like fifty talking-head British plays on ‘topical’ themes I’d seen before. On the other hand, I couldn’t wait to see Requiem by renowned Italian director Romeo Castellucci, whose Go Down, Moses was, for me, the high point of the 2016 Festival.
Morley praises Requiem for its memorably ‘evocative, poetic, and, yes, musical images’ and finds The Doctor fatally misjudged and, well, hard to hear. To the contrary, I thought Requiem a shadow of Moses – a banally conceived and grindingly staged funeral service for the planet (and one that, as anyone familiar with Castellucci’s previous works will know, replayed many of the director’s greatest hits, including the distracting gimmick of a live baby).
Where Requiem was boring, making me wish I could just hear Mozart’s glorious music with my eyes shut, The Doctor was riveting from the moment it began. I was seated on the balcony and had no trouble at all hearing (and seeing – it seems the import of writer–director Robert Icke’s gender- and colour-blind casting was lost on Morley) this whip-smart contemporary drama unfold one devastating, unforeseen twist at a time.
Ben Brooker, Brompton, SA
Michael Morley replies:
While there may be differing, subjective views about the colour- and gender-blind casting in The Doctor, the question of audibility and poor diction is, dare I suggest, more objective. Last time I had my hearing checked, it was okay. Last time I sat in The Playhouse, I heard every word. And although one might hesitate to offer Bertolt Brecht’s advice to the audience in the interlude to Man Equals Man (‘If you can’t follow the plot, don’t worry: it’s incomprehensible. If you want something full of meaning, I suggest you pay a visit to the Gents’) as something to follow on every occasion. The conversations overheard in this environment at the performance I attended ranged from ‘Can’t hear or understand what they’re saying’ to ‘Me neither: we’re leaving.’
I acknowledged in my review that there would be a range of responses to the theatrical imagery Romeo Castellucci conjured up to accompany Mozart’s music. On balance, it seemed to me that his approach was of a piece with Igor Stravinsky’s (only slightly ironic) disclaimer from decades ago: ‘I haven’t understood a bar of music in my life, but I have felt it.’
I was unaware that Castellucci had deployed the image of a real baby in a previous production, but given that creative artists are regular plagiarists (the Greeks, Shakespeare, Joyce et al.), I don’t quite see how borrowing a baby can be seen as child- (or theatrical) abuse.