Guardian Pulls Judith Butler's Comments On "Gender-Critical" Anti-Trans Movement
“It's legitimately baffling"
This article has been updated to include statements from Jules Gleeson and The Guardian.
On Tuesday, British newspaper The Guardian published an interview with Judith Butler—and then removed a section in which the renowned gender theorist made criticisms of the transphobic “gender critical” movement.
Responding to a question from writer Jules Gleeson about protests around Los Angeles’s Wi Spa this summer that turned violent after an allegation of exhibitionism in the women’s locker room drew far right anti-trans demonstrators, Butler termed trans-exclusionary ideology as “one of the dominant strains of fascism in our times.”
“So the Terfs will not be part of the contemporary struggle against fascism, one that requires a coalition guided by struggles against racism, nationalism, xenophobia and carceral violence, one that is mindful of the high rates of femicide throughout the world, which include high rates of attacks on trans and genderqueer people,” Butler said.
That section was removed. The paper said in an update that it made the redaction “to reflect developments which occurred after the interview took place” but did not detail them. You can read the original here.
“I find it ridiculous that the Guardian would interview Judith Butler about womanhood and not expect very frank comments about TERFs [trans-exclusionary-radical-feminists]—the redaction is pathetic but unsurprising,” author Zoé Samudzi tweeted.
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“Something of an editor’s pile on”
The section was pulled due after readers complained. In a statement Wednesday, Gleeson said that her question, which used the Wi Spa protests as a framing device, was used to justify the removal.
“Within a few hours of the piece being posted, I’d received an email forwarding me a missive from the Guardian’s ‘Reader Complaints’ department,” Gleeson said, adding that “it became very clear very quickly that this meant I was interacting (indirectly) with the British team.”
Through her direct editor, Gleeson found herself in the midst of “something of an editor’s pile on, with a ‘long discussion’ that I didn’t get to see unfolding.”
Due to controversies around the Wi Spa reporting in recent weeks, Guardian editors wanted a change to the content. Gleeson offered to rewrite the question leading to the response, while keeping the response as is, but “the other editors were of the view that the question and answer be instead removed in their entirety.”
“I was quite surprised at this suggestion, and replied that I had seen plenty of people approvingly sharing the piece quoting exactly that passage from Butler,” Gleeson said.
Gleeson presented the editors with a rewrite, but it was too late.
“Unfortunately, the Guardian editors decided to go ahead with their decision to censor Judith Butler,” Gleeson said.
According to sources close to the situation, the company’s UK editors have used the offending section as a “pretext” to pull a Guardian US series focused on trans issues called Gender Now that Butler’s interview was meant to launch. But The Guardian on Thursday told me that the series is back on—without acknowledging whether or not it had been cancelled.
One Guardian lead opinion writer, Susanna Rustin, called Butler’s comments on gender identity “the ultimate luxury belief.”
“And it unsurprisingly emerged from an elite university in a superpower state,” she added.
“It's legitimately baffling”
Anti-trans activism has increased in volume, violence, and danger over the past year as it draws closer to the extreme right-wing.
As I wrote in July:
Trans rights have been a right-wing focal point, for both the far right and mainstream conservatives, for years. Hateful rhetoric around the issue has been indulged in and lifted up by media figures in mainstream and independent media in both the U.S. and Great Britain.
According to tracking group Freedom For All Americans, there have been 50 anti-trans bills introduced around the country thus far in the 2021 legislative session. Given the clear and growing connections between the modern anti-trans rights movement and the far right it's no surprise that there's a turn toward violence on the streets—as the ideology grows its power in media and political institutions.
The Guardian ’s reporting is highly regarded and an interview with a prominent public intellectual like Butler is in line with the paper’s general approach to political coverage. But this time, the subject matter was too much to handle.
“The Guardian US site has some of the best extremism reporters in the biz, and as far as I know they never have to pull punches against bigots, even when bigots complain,” tweeted HuffPost Senior Editor Andy Campbell. “It's legitimately baffling to see what happens to journalists and their work when people complain in the UK.”
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Butler's retracted passage was hyperbolic nonsense. What is the controversy again?