She and they

More support for Fran Cowling and indignation with Peter Tatchell. Also – coincidentally? or not? – more bad writing. This time it’s an open letter to Peter by a guy called Chris Hubley. He points out that there have been a lot of articles on the subject of Cowling v Tatchell.

However what is missing from all this is that you were never actually under attack. Fran isn’t a well known figure beyond their own circles, and they weren’t even making these comments publicly – it all happened in private emails between them and the organisers of the event. They had been invited to speak alongside you, and they responded that they didn’t want to.

Wait, I’m lost already. Who? Who weren’t? Who had? Who did?

There are actually reasons for using singular pronouns when you’re talking about one person and plural ones when you’re talking about several, reasons that have nothing to do with transphobia or snooty prescriptivism about language. Hubley seems to be serenely unaware that he’s talking about an individual and a group in the same paragraph, and that he’ll confuse us if he uses “they” when he means the one individual. Also, as I said yesterday, it’s not obvious to me why he’s calling Fran Cowling “they” at all. When it’s not obvious, maybe it’s a silly thing to do.

Now this is something which they are completely within their right to do, freedom of speech is also freedom to not engage. So then it seems the organisers forwarded the email onto you. It’s understandable that you might want to reach out to them, to see if you could talk it through. But they didn’t want to have that conversation with you, which again they are free to do.

Same again but more so. That part is even less clear. Reach out to the organizers, or Cowling? Cowling didn’t want to, or the organizers? Who knows.

Then Hubley says it was uncool of Tatchell to take it all public.

Meanwhile when you google Fran Cowling the results are dominated by articles about you. Everyone is writing about them, and the tone ranges from the mainstream broadsheets cooly reporting on your original statement to aggressive hate filled rants about how Fran represents everything that’s wrong with modern student activism. How do you think this has affected them, and will affect them in the future? So far it’s resulted in them shutting down their Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, and I’ve heard from those close to her that it’s been incredibly difficult for them…

Ooops! He slipped up there.

There’s one simple fact that you don’t seem to understand in this situation where you’ve painted yourself as the poor victim of an over-zealous oppressor, and that is that you are the one with the power in this situation. Fran is a young student activist, while you are a celebrity with a Guardian column and a foundation named after yourself. Fran Cowling is not a threat to your freedom of speech. However your actions have harmed her in a way which sends a clear message that you are not to be messed with or criticised, even in private, otherwise all hell will break loose and you’ll release the hounds/press releases. Now I don’t know about you but that sure doesn’t sound like a situation conducive to freedom of speech to me.

Ooops! He slipped up again.

As for the substance – he does have something of a point, I guess. Tatchell does have far more media power than Cowling does. But given that she was telling event organizers that he was a Particular Kind of Bad Person, I can well understand why he wanted to set the record straight. I’m not sure what to think about this one.

18 Responses to “She and they”