Mon. Jun 14th, 2021


Moore rejects any suggestion she is transphobic. Her view is that sex is a biological classification that applies to living species and not something that can be merely assigned, as has been argued by some trans leaders. “What I don’t like is the erasing of female bodies, female voices and female experience and our ability to name it,” she explains. “What I care about fundamentally is the right of women to meet in single-sex spaces and assert themselves as a class.”

If somebody writes something you really, really don’t like then my response is to go away and write something better.

Suzanne Moore

Invoking her feminist background, Moore says many of the advances women have made − such as reproductive rights − are based on biology. She also defends the right of people to join the debate without being hounded.

Her March column covering these beliefs prompted 338 staff at The Guardian − a bastion of Britain’s left − to sign a letter decrying the masthead’s “repeated decision to publish anti-trans views”. Moore argues that far from being anti-trans, The Guardian would deliberately steer clear of the debate out of fear of offending its readers and financial backers.

More than a dozen employees of The Guardian’s Australian website also signed the letter − including its opinion editor Bridie Jabour and deputy opinion editor Svetlana Stankovic. Others who didn’t sign it were accused of also being transphobic.

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“I’ve been in newspapers a long time and have often completely disagreed with people,” Moore says. “If somebody writes something you really, really don’t like then my response is to go away and write something better.”

The Guardian’s editor-in-chief Kath Viner defended publishing Moore’s column at the time and told staff in an email that it was “never acceptable to attack colleagues whose views you do not agree with”. But Moore worries a sense of purity is overtaking the bedrock journalistic principle that all topics should be interrogated.

“This purity has to be signalled the whole time now. In every way these people have to say, ‘I am a living saint, I have never had an impure thought in my life’. I mean come on. We all know that humans − and journalists in particular − are really flawed people.

“It’s also an insult to the intelligence of the reader, this belief that you cannot offer different opinions and let readers go away and make their minds up. You can’t just tell them that this is how to think and if you don’t think the same as me you are out. That doesn’t work for me.”

Moore believes the growing lack of tolerance for a diversity of journalistic views is a global phenomenon. In June, staff at The New York Times led a revolt over the publication of a controversial opinion piece by a Republican senator calling for troops to quell civil rights protests. The paper’s editorial page editor James Bennet later resigned.

Conservative columnist and opinion editor Bari Weiss also quit, arguing Twitter had become the paper’s ultimate editor and that op-eds easily published two years ago would now get an editor or a writer in serious trouble or even fired. That same month, nearly 70 journalists from The Age sent a letter to managers expressing among other complaints their concern over the masthead’s editorial direction.

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“Journalistically, I think open letters are crap and stupid things to do,” Moore says. “I don’t sign open letters. If a journalist wants to get something out there, there are smart ways to do it. Open letters are the most underhanded, sneaky way to do it.”

Moore was one of The Guardian’s star columnists before this year’s blow-up, regularly delighting readers with searing takedowns of Tory governments and passionate defences of women’s rights. She has written for the masthead since the 1990s, with the exception of a short stint at The Independent and then several years as the left-wing agitator at the right-wing Mail on Sunday. In 2019 she won Britain’s most prestigious political writing award, the Orwell Prize, for “stubborn and brave” commentary.

Journalism, Moore says, is suffering from a case of low self-esteem; suddenly unsure of itself and its core mission.

“My argument to The Guardian about the trans issue was that if we don’t have this debate − which is already being had outside the paper − then you completely leave it open for the right wing and that is what has happened. The Murdoch press can now carve up the trans issue and The Guardian just pretends like none of this is happening.

“That’s what really bugs me − the slight turning of a blind eye when you have enough information to know something is happening but just kind of say, ‘oh that issue is really difficult and it might upset our readers’.

“Don’t go into journalism if you just want to be liked. It’s a fundamental principle of journalism that there are places you are going to go that will make some people feel uncomfortable.”

The transgender community fears the public debate over trans rights and gender fluidity provides a foundation for further discrimination, bigotry and violence.

Moore agrees when I put it to her that the analytics used by newsrooms to monitor reader behaviour online may be making editors less willing to commission and air alternate views. “If I wanted to be the No. 1 columnist on The Guardian website, all I would have had to do was write a piece each week with the word ‘vagina’ and ‘Israel’ in it, because you just know that that is what would fly there.”

Moore stresses the trans community has more to fear from men than some feminists who question whether trans rights could collide with women’s rights. “Who is putting trans people’s lives at risk? Who is killing them and beating them up on the street in America and Brazil in terrible numbers? It is not women. Feminists and trans people are often on the same side but for some reason it’s now all got very difficult.”

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling's views on transgender rights sparked a backlash and drew a rebuke from film star Daniel Radcliffe.

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling’s views on transgender rights sparked a backlash and drew a rebuke from film star Daniel Radcliffe.Credit:BBC/Tom Hayward

As the criticism of her column swirled, the journalist received hundreds of messages from teachers, therapists, doctors, nurses and social workers who agreed with her unease − particularly a rise in the number of children seeking to transition. Moore says adults are entitled to do what they want to with their bodies but believes society should be able to debate issues around people under 18.

She also got a private note from Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who was slammed in June for criticising the phrase “people who menstruate” and airing concerns about allowing men who identify as women to use female bathrooms.

“Whether you agree with her or not, the level of abuse that was aimed at J.K. Rowling was kind of incredible,” Moore says. “Her speaking out helped other people but at the same time nobody wants to cop that level of abuse. So if you’re just keeping your head down as a teaching assistant, a little bit worried about things, you think to yourself ‘God I should shut up because look at what happens when you question this stuff’.”

A spokesman for The Guardian said the company was committed to representing a wide range of views in its news and opinion pages. “We wish Suzanne all the best with her future career and are sorry to see her leave.” Moore has started a new subscriber newsletter, Letters from Suzanne.

Moore denies she has become more conservative with age and says she would rather “boil my own head” than vote for a Tory. The issue is that elements of the left have walked away from her rather than the other way around. “I want the left to be a bigger place. I don’t like the current incarnation of the hard-left,” she says.

“I’m a creature of the left, I come from it. But if someone thinks you are right-wing because you don’t sign up to the Jeremy Corbyn agenda or you dare to raise the trans issue or other difficult topics, the left is really more f—ed than I thought.”

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