Munroe Bergdorf: In Conversation – International Women’s Day

The webinar was hosted by The MAC, a metropolitan arts centre in Belfast. The MAC announced on Twitter that Munroe Bergdorf, a trans-identified man, was to open their International Women’s Day Festival week of events. UK gender crits had something to say about it. The MAC deleted the tweet and issued a defensive statement with Bergdorf announcing his permanent departure from Twitter. Again.

Dr Yassin Brunger was the woman ‘in conversation’ with Munroe. Brunger is a lecturer in law at Queen’s University, Belfast and predictably the typical airhead academic we’ve come to expect at these things. She/her has pronouns in her Twitter bio naturally. She is the founder of QUB Gender Network, which appears to be a website. The mandatory BSL interpreter was on hand to sign for the deaf, and I wondered how many of the UK’s 87,000 BSL users were on the webinar, but, as per usual, the numbers attending was hidden. There were also live captions.

Brunger introduced Bergdorf. Bergdorf had been described by Teen Vogue as ‘powerful and unstoppable’. Over the last two years he had become a ‘doctor of letters‘, appeared on Teen Vogue’s cover, won an Attitudes hero award (gay mag) and also been in the Vogue 25: ‘Meet The Women Shaping 2020’. Bergdorf is also writing a book, which has had its publication date moved several times now and we will have to wait now until January 2022 to slag it off.

Black Lives Matter

Was Brunger’s first question was about BLM and COVID 19. Bergdorf said the pandemic had been a game changer and that lockdown had made people aware of racism in a way they hadn’t before, for example, there was ‘medical racism’ (he didn’t actually expand on this but presumably was referring to the suggestion that different ethnic minorities were more susceptible to the virus due to genetics). Bergdorf said it had bought together ‘black trans women’, ‘black cis women’ and ‘black disabled women’.

Brunger suggested that the BLM hashtag might just be a trendy thing to do right now and that long term people weren’t in the fight. Bergdorf had no time for ‘performative allyship’ but was pleased that people had better awareness about ‘white micro aggressions’ towards black people and the fact that black lives matter was ‘no longer debate-able’.

How do we dismantle the system we didn’t create, pondered Brunger. Bergdorf responded we have to raise awareness, even the BLM movement was victim to the patriarchy and gave the example of Breonna Taylor’s death, in Louisville Kentucky USA, which had not been protested as much by BLM as death of males and then mentioned that there had been no video of Taylor’s death, whereas George Floyd’s was caught on camera.

Munroe claimed that he first got involved in black activism at the inception of the BLM movement (according to their website this was in 2013) and that it was the murder of ‘Mike Brown’ (universally referred to as Michael Brown in all the articles I could find) which spurred him into action. Again Brown was an American, murdered in St Louis, in 2014. Bergdorf said that all black people are ‘siblings’ to each other.

Interestingly Michael Brown Snr is now asking BLM for $20 million following BLM’s financial disclosure of receiving $90 million in donations. But I guess siblings fight, don’t they?

Bergdorf told us that race ‘wasn’t real’ and was ‘created by white supremacy’. ‘Whiteness isn’t real, to be white isn’t a thing’. People with a lighter skin tone had come together to consolidate power and in order that they could oppress people who weren’t considered white.

Um, okay. That doesn’t quite explain the Nuremberg Laws in Nazi Germany and the ensuing mass murder which followed nor the countless numbers of other incidences in European history spanning at least a thousand years. The fact that Bergdorf was spouting this off in front of a Belfast audience wasn’t lost on me, but no doubt ‘da kids’ were down with it.

Lighter skin colours were ‘literally a genetic mutation’. Bergdorf had used to believe that ‘race was real’ and that ‘whiteness was the goal’ – which perhaps explains his journey to a much lighter skin tone.

Once you realised that white supremacy, patriarchy, ableism and the class system had been put together intentionally, then it could be deconstructed intentionally.

Class was created to keep the rich rich and the poor poor, so that they could make money for the rich. I think it’s all about education and recognising the origins of things, so that we can build a better tomorrow.

Laydees and Germs, Bergdorf can be hired for after dinner speaking.

Twansphobia

After we got through the critical race theory section, we moved onto a topic much closer to Bergdorf’s heart and he certainly perked up quite a bit more talking about gender identity. Brunger said that there was a dark side to social media and wanted to know why Bergdorf had left Twitter.

Bergdorf breezily told us that the more famous he had become and more followers he had gained, the more push back he got on social media and didn’t like exposing his belly so much. Transphobia in the UK was very highly organised and that there were some very ‘high powered people’ involved (AKA the ‘international network of powerful lesbians’ as reported in Penis News).

They were trying to roll back trans peoples’ rights and especially trans kids’ access to healthcare (AKA puberty blockers). The kinds of things people were saying was very similar to the insults levelled at homosexual men in the 1980s. Not only that but social media giants did almost nothing to protect trans people and he was due to have an article in Marie Claire on the nature of online abuse (I wonder if the pitch came before or after his flounce off Twitter). Social media was like the Wild West and people knew the way around the policies.

Fake news on social media was damaging democracy and had resulted in Brexit, Trump and finally the storming of Capitol Hill (his politics is very American-centric).

He claimed that he had been called a paedophile by anti-trans campaigners. This was very upsetting to him because, not only does he want kids himself, but he also knows victims of childhood sexual abuse and it hurt very much. Instagram, apparently, is a much more respectful platform. Bergdorf wanted the tech companies to develop an algorithm to detect transphobia (i.e. ‘misgendering’).

Brunger said that there was a trend of ‘women of colour’ being specifically targeted for racist and misogynistic abuse. Yes, said Bergdorf, this has been his whole career!

Bergdorf felt that this was because it was mainly white cis men in Silicone Valley writing code and claimed that the nipples of fat black women on Instagram were more likely to be censored.

Returning to the issue of being called a paedophile, Bergdorf said that was due to his support of Mermaids (he is now a patron) and that he wasn’t anti-social media (oh, we know). The laxity on abuse was all down to ‘old people who write the laws’ not understanding social media.

Q&A

The importance of transition

I want to bring it down to, you know, your – [Deep exhale] – your incredible work in really highlighting the importance and openness of what it means to transition, and the struggles of that, and the deep inspiration that gives to our young people.

Brunger grovelling
Question from floor: I came out and began transitioning at the start of lockdown so have had no real wider social interactions outside the house. Do you have any advice on being in public and engaging with people ‘for the first time’? (she/her)

Bergdorf advised the questioner to take things slowly and that it was hard to present as your gender identity for the first time and to go straight into it all the time, rather than throwing yourself into situations where you feel unsafe, or are unsafe. Don’t feel like a fraud for taking it slowly. An amazing support network is needed. Bergdorf said that he never hated his body nor necessarily felt like he had been born in the wrong body.

This is directly contradicted by his blurb in Mermaids’ statement on the phrase ‘born in the wrong body’ which states that he used to say it, so clearly he must have thought it. Mermaids was forced to change their position following the Department for Education’s guidance that pupils must not be told they might be a different gender based on personality or clothes. Therefore if Mermaids had wanted to continue to promote itself in schools they had to change their tack.

Therefore Bergdorf, in line with Mermaids policy, rather feels that he just needed to make some adjustments to his body. It was a good idea not to spend time around friends who questioned your decision or made you feel uncertain of your new identity. Transitioning is for you, for your own benefit, not for anybody else.

Make sure you’re making connections that feed your soul. I think a transition is a journey of love for the soul. It isn’t all about going full steam ahead presenting all the time when you’re not ready.

Munroe Bergdorf, waxing lyrical

Brunger had a follow up question about how it affected families. Bergdorf explained that the ‘whole family transitions’ when one person transitions, which rather contradicted his sentiment a few moments earlier that transition was purely an individual journey. Bergdorf explained that most parents just needed time. His father had taken him coming out as gay considerably worse than his transition, whereas his mum had struggled with the idea her child was trans. It was ‘dehumanising’ for trans people to have to explain what their transition. Parents weren’t losing a child, they were gaining a happy child.

Question from floor: What can we do to help trans kids?

Donate money to charities which help trans kids, do your own fundraisers or donate to grass root movements challenging case law (one imagines Bergdorf was obliquely referring to the Fox Killer’s puberty blocker challenge, but was too sly to say).

Question from Brunger: How can feminist discourse become more trans and racially inclusive?

Unfortunately there’s a cross section of people that believe that there’s one way to be a woman. Womanhood is global, it’s international, it’s- it’s – womanhood is a concept, you know, it’s – what is a woman? It’s – And what is a man, you know. When it’s clear that, you know, sex isn’t binary, intersex people exist, there’s as much intersex people as there are redheads, as there are Jewish people, so to say that they’re just mistakes. You can’t say that a human is a mistake when someone presents what has been classed as male and what has been classed as female. Erm, you know, I think it is recognising that we have made those things exist. We have made up male and female depending on penis and vagina but some people have both [or to different degrees]. So I think rejecting the binary, rejecting the concept of race, and embracing the reality of difference. I don’t think that we should obviously say that the black and white doesn’t exist because it’s been made to exist, and black culture is a resistance. […] It’s so complicated but I feel like in order for feminism to thrive we need to have these conversations. […]

We need to be hearing from different women, and different women need to have a platform, they need to be respected. We can’t go down the route of saying only women that give birth naturally are, you know, are the top of the pile, because that alienates trans women and alienates cis women that can’t give birth. Erm, and then we start making exceptions and say ‘oh no but you’re a cis woman so you’re allowed’. Erm, it’s really messy and I feel like the hate needs to stop. The organised harassment needs to stop. The way in which we prioritise certain existences needs to stop. You liberate the most marginalised members of society and everybody wins. Nobody is trying to take anything away from anybody. By being trans inclusive you’re not suffering in any way if you recognise trans women are women, then, what’s the problem?

Bergdorf demonstrating queer theory of the gender binary
Question from Brunger: What does community mean to you?

Bergdorf responded that it meant everything basically and would be lost without it. It provided empowerment, power, validation but more than that. ‘Yeah’ cooed Brunger softly. The community constantly uplifts him. Was in a privileged position. Uninclusive feminism is a lack of community and humanity. We all deserve access to services/ spaces.

I’m a big believer in community and I have a community around me to deal with some of the struggles of what it means to be a black woman in this world. When I read the words you write and listen to you speak, it reminds me that community means courage, and you offer us lessons in courage, and I thank you for that.

Thank you so so much Munroe.

[Thanks rest of team and audience] may you go forth in courage and in the light of Munroe Bergdorf.

Brunger grovelling again

All together now: BLEURRGHHH


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