It seems that in recent years, the term “free speech” has become a knee-jerk reactionary response to problematic (read: racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic etc.) rhetoric. This defence shifts the onus of public villainy from certain individuals to the disparaging public by denying them the right to “exercise their right to freedom of expression”, as posited by gender critical group Women’s Place UK. But in changing the emphasis on problematic speech to the denial of free speech, we are denying the historicism of marginalised suffering and violence. “Gender critical” feminists, deemed Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists or TERFs by trans allies and activists, pose a uniquely deadly threat to the eradication of trans rights under the guise of “free speech”.
Tolerating or upholding problematised views is in itself extremely detrimental to marginalised communities. The NSPCC’s decision to severe ties with trans model and activist Munroe Bergdorf following anti-trans journalist Janice Turner’s claims that she is a “porn model”, despite never having participated in actual pornography. Turner, and fellow anti-trans feminists took no such action with Abby Clancy or Melinda Messenger, who have also worked with the NSPCC, and participated in similar photoshoots to that of Bergdorf. At its core, the campaign to eradicate ties with Munroe is an act of trans-misogynoir coded with the intent of “protecting children”. It’s worth noting that Turner’s presence online extends far beyond a feminist defence and extends into actively mocking and shaming the appearance of transwomen.
Interweaving these subtle nuances of intolerance has devastating consequences for marginalised communities; from overt hostility and discrimination to subjecting marginalised bodies to violence, rape, and murder. The classic insinuation that “being gay is ok, so long as I don’t have to see it” is an act of sublimating intolerance of same sex desires into a more palatable form of speech. According to philosophy Professor Talia Mae Bettcher, homophobia and biphobia stem from the belief that heterosexuality is superior to any form of same-sex attraction. The subversion of the aforementioned insinuation suggests that being anyone marginalised is “lesser” and individual existence should be segregated from those who don’t conform to cis-gendered, white, and heteronormative ideals.
The recent trend of "milkshaking” has become not only comic gold (seeing Nigel Farrage and Sargon of Akkad covered in a white liquid that somewhat resembles semen is glorious), but in some sense is a form of no-platforming. By no means is this an active suggestion to milkshake everyone and anyone that harbours problematic views – although that would certainly be a glorious sight – but no-platforming does work. Anti-Muslim “journalist” (a term here used very loosely) Laura Loomer chained herself to Twitter Manhattan’s office doors in protest of her ban from the platform. Removing online presence is crucial in removing the echo chamber that social media platforms can sometimes create.
However, in a day and age where anyone is capable of voicing their opinion, the question is where the transgression of boundaries from free speech to hate speech lie. Ultimately, this is subjective, and leaves the void open for prominent journalists such as Janice Turner to continually spout an anti-trans rhetoric. The peaceful and tolerant co-existence of humanity is not something that should be compromised under the guise of freedom of speech. From this, one thing is certain – using carefully coded language to redirect hate speech directed towards marginalised bodies into a form of personal preference or philosophical debate needs to stop.
English student with a love of feminism, politics, photography, coffee shops, and getting lost in a good book. Mainly writing about intersectional feminist issues across the media with splashes of very amateur psychology.