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It's Not the Size of Your Suffering; It's What You Do With It

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News flash: Suffering is not a competition, regardless of what Julie Burchill and her ilk would have you think. Suffering is not really something you can quantify and compare and, even if it were, what would be the point?

Burchill, Suzanne Moore, and Julie Bindel recently have gotten into an(other) argument with transgender women, who they feel are bullying what Burchill terms "natural-born women". Burchill also seems to have an issue with people who have PhDs, and she refers to them as "[e]ducated beyond all common sense and honesty", perhaps due to some inferiority complex, and/or an inability to recognise the importance of education.

The main concern here is that in a recent article in the Observer, Burchill suggests that transgender women don't have the right to talk about being women or to complain or to compare themselves to other women, and in particular, to cisgender women, a term which means women whose birth sex aligns to the gender they feel themselves to be (and note to Burchill: "cis" comes from Latin and means "on this side", rather than having anything to do with cysts, so this is a case where a little more education would be helpful and certainly not "beyond all common sense").

In her piece, Burchill goes on to say: "We know that everything we have we got for ourselves. We have no family money, no safety net." "We" refers to her and her friends, and also seems meant to encompass other cisgender women. In other words, she implies that transgender women don't work for what they have and that they all must rely on family money.

While that is, of course, patently ridiculous, what is at the heart of this argument is the definition of a woman. And I'm not sure about why this is worth arguing about to the extent that some people believe it is.

Personally, I don't know exactly what people mean when they say they "feel" male or "feel" female, and I suspect it is different for each person. However, I do accept that individuals are the best judges of their own experiences. So if someone says that they feel like a woman, then that's good enough for me. And it should be good enough for us all. How can you argue with how someone feels?

Where it gets upsetting and tricky is when people starting claiming that they have suffered more than others. How can we genuinely compare the experiences of a white, working-class, cisgender woman such as Burchill to those of a black, working-class, cisgender woman, let alone a transgender woman? What would such a comparison look like? And why does it matter? Is life really a competition? Does a woman who has suffered "PMT and sexual harassment", as Burchill puts it, have a worse life than a woman who has not? Does it make the latter woman's life any less authentic or any less worthy of acceptance, recognition, or discussion?

What we ought to do is to stop bullying and oppressing others and stop comparing ourselves to them. It doesn't help and in many cases it actually hinders dialogue and progress. Instead, let's look for what similarities we share, and let's find common cause.

There's no reason why cisgender women and transgender women can't come together simply as women to fight against all the problems facing us and our world, including issues that Burchill herself raises, such as harassment, "the rape of children and the trafficking of women", and much more.

We're not comparing the size of our burdens here or how much we have suffered. Instead, we're looking forward to see what we can accomplish. Together.

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