Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

December 11, 2018   5 mins

A little over two weeks ago, I was permanently suspended from Twitter. My crime? ‘Misgendering’ – I referred to an individual who claims to identify as a “transwoman” (but who goes by a male, as well as a female, name) as “him”. Apparently, using male pronouns to describe a male violates Twitter’s rules against “hateful conduct.” But unless stating facts is hate speech, I had not said anything “hateful”. By deeming my comments ‘hateful conduct’, Twitter is allowing a minority of trans activists to determine what may and may not be said, and by whom.

And Twitter is not the only platform facing pressure to punish women who speak uncomfortable truths. In a long read essay recently published by Broadly Vice’s supposedly woman-centered wing – Eve Livingston expresses concern about what she characterises as “transphobia” on Mumsnet’s feminism board. In fact, Mumsnet has become one of the few places women are allowed to discuss their concerns about gender identity ideology and legislation — a breath of fresh air, considering the extreme harassment, bullying, and silencing that women are exposed to in just about every other forum (online and off) when they attempt to have such conversations.

The confidence with which Mumsnet users continue to insist on discussing material reality is rooted in large part in a 2016 “I am Spartacus” thread, which began when a user by the name of “OscarDeLaYenta” posted: “Men cannot become women, ever. Women cannot become men, ever.” The post kicked off a series of posts in which users refuted the idea that one can change sex and refused to use ‘correct pronouns’.

Considering Mumsnet has served as launchpad for feminist campaigns such as like “Let Girls Be Girls” (criticising the sexualisation girls are exposed to at a young age) and “Let Toys Be Toys,”  (aimed at challenging the gender stereotypes), it makes perfect sense that these women would push back against the idea that femininity and masculinity define sex (as trans activists argue). But Livingston and other trans activists refuse to acknowledge this obvious connection between feminist critiques of gender roles and feminist critiques of gender identity. Instead they frame women’s insistence that males are male, regardless of their predilection for the ‘feminine’, as ‘transphobia’ and ‘hate speech’.

Livingston worries that Mumsnet’s “political and social clout” exists not in spite of, but because its female users boldly defend women’s spaces and call males “he” and women “she,” regardless of professed “gender identity.” I suspect she might be right.

The thing about free speech – whether on social media or comment boards – is that it allows people to say things you don’t want to hear. If free speech were only applicable to people whose ideas and statements you agreed with, it wouldn’t be free speech. We have to apply this concept as broadly as possibly, no matter how distasteful the result may be, because they alternative is certainly worse.

Somehow, ‘free speech’ has become a clarion call for the Right. But why? Shouldn’t the Left, which claims to seek liberation, justice, and equality, also support citizens’ right to express unpopular ideas and engage in critical debate? Instead, many on the Left approach free speech in a way that suggests these ideals only apply to some people, not all.

In recent years, I have become concerned that both the Left and feminism have failed to value and support the concept of free speech as assiduously as they should have. I’ve seen hypocrisy in terms of whose speech is defended and whose is not. Self-professed Leftist activsts have worked to silence those whose political activism and ideologies they find harmful (often for legitimate reasons, though at times not), rather than simply fight back, debate, or criticise.

It cannot be argued that “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” are inventions of the Right. Some might argue these are necessary in order to protect against Right wing opinions, which they view as hateful or harmful, and assume opinions held by Leftists are the opposite, but this is over simplistic, as evidenced by the Left’s embrace of the rather terrifying and fascistic trans movement.

To be fair, numerous feminists who are also Leftists are fighting back against those trying to dissolve the category of woman entirely and criminalise people who insist that it is impossible to change sex. These women are doing so at great risk to their own safety and livelihood.

Over the past couple of weeks, trans activists launched a massive denial of service (DoS) attack against my site, Feminist Current; attempted to report me to the police for “hate speech” as founder and editor of the site; directed numerous graphic violent threats at me via Eventbrite, many of which were sexualised and misogynist; have libelled me online and in the mainstream media; and have threatened me with a lawsuit claiming that my stating that men are not women constitutes “hate speech” and “defamation.” (I have consulted numerous lawyers and it is most certainly neither.)

This all came after trans activists attempted to shut down an event I will be speaking at in January at the Vancouver Public Library (VPL). The event is an attempt to discuss the impact of gender identity ideology and legislation on women’s rights — apparently a subject that activists believe violates the Human Rights Code (they should probably read that).

Ironically, considering the threats against me, and considering that, as far as I am aware, no feminist has threatened a trans activist, Leftists and labour movement leaders are claiming my attempt to speak about women’s rights makes certain people feel “unsafe.” I am legitimately afraid for my safety due to actual threats made against me, yet my words are being positioned as dangerous.

The VPL did not cancel the January event booking, despite pressure from trans activists, but said nothing to deter the threats against me. Instead, in a statement they said: “We have advised the Vancouver Police Department of the event; they will be monitoring and will take appropriate action should conduct breach the Criminal Code.”

They weren’t talking about violence or misogynistic speech from activists — they were talking about me – the very dangerous woman who says violent things like “men are not women,” something Vancouver’s new ever-so-progressive mayor, Kennedy Stewart, considers “despicable.” (Stewart has yet to comment on the vitriol and unethical, dangerous behaviour of my detractors – though he has defended free speech.) What about my “safe space”? Why don’t these activists believe women deserve the right to speak about their concerns free from violence and harassment?

I’m not the only one Twitter has banned for making rather basic statements about biology and reporting plain facts about the actions of trans activists – numerous women have told me they too have been suspended or banned in the past couple of weeks. The company appears to be systematically purging the platform of those who challenge trans orthodoxy and refer to men as “he” regardless of their identification as transwomen. Like Mayor Stewart, Twitter has consistently ignored literal threats of violence, instead targeting the victims of such threats as perpetrators of ‘hate’ speech.

To be honest, I don’t care what abhorrent commentary Twitter allows on the site, so long as they are consistent. Instead, they’ve adopted a nonsensical position that favours certain ideologies by censoring anyone who doesn’t get in line.

You might say, ‘Well, Twitter is a private company and can do what it likes’, but this is bigger than just Twitter. Those who rock the boat are being censored in universities, in the media, and in the public square – which in this day and age is really social media. Twitter is the place where we have become accustomed to engaging in and following debates, and sharing ideas and news. Even bad ideas, and even fake news. Think about it: Twitter, a multi-billion dollar company, is creating a false narrative by silencing dissent and controlling public discourse. That so many progressives are going along with this is shocking.

We should have pushed back harder, years ago, when we saw young activists begin to shut down – rather than simply challenge – ideas and speakers they disagreed with. Because now we’re facing a monster that is working to criminalise women for making feminist arguments, for publishing feminist writing, and for trying to protect their rights and boundaries. I hope Leftists and feminists will see that no one is safe if we don’t carefully protect free speech for all.

Meghan Murphy is a writer in Vancouver, BC. Her website is Feminist Current.