Sir, – I’ve been watching the growth of your publication online for many months now; the transformation of an arguably well-meant (if poorly executed) conservative voice on campus to a shouty mouthpiece for disgruntled individuals who appear convinced that good writing equals sarcasm, “alternative” opinions and a lazy reference to unrelated and extreme historical events. So far, I’ve managed to console myself with the fact that the Burkean Journal has become an echo chamber within itself, easily ignored by those wishing to make a positive contribution to student life in Dublin. But when one of your contributors decided to come for such an innocuous yet meaningful change as unisex toilets in UCD with this genre of exclusionary and offensive language, neither I nor my friends could any longer resign ourselves to the quiet contempt which we habitually reserve for this particular publication.
There is not a sentence within Michael O’Dwyer Connolly’s article, published 28th February, that isn’t objectively problematic, from the derisive use of quotation marks to denote newly-emergent gender identities, to a careless and deeply offensive reference to the (scientifically disproved) “scientific two –gender system”. The reader emerges from Mr. O’Dwyer’s haphazard attempt at intellectual discourse not enlightened by a thoughtful contribution to the ongoing debate on Irish gender, but uneasy with the knowledge that such a display of ignorant bigotry is still thought of by some as acceptable journalism in 2018. I only regret that it has taken me this long to word a response.
If this kind of speech goes unchallenged it becomes used as valid argumentative material by those who should know better but unfortunately do not. As such, although I believe that Mr. O’Dwyer’s argument is both so poorly researched and weakly constructed that it does not merit an intelligent response, it must be demonstrated that such transphobic and small-minded grandstanding does not hold the slightest place in a university publication, however little respected.
Kicking off this article is a behest of the common-sense irish folk to cast their minds back to a time “when bathrooms had one very simple purpose and didn’t get caught up in politics”. It’s probably worth at this point reminding ourselves that doing things by tradition doesn’t always mean doing them better, and that the ability to see politics as removed from daily life is a mark of privilege. ‘Tradition’ in Ireland up until the 90’s was the legal oppression of the LGBT community and the consequent fear of these individuals to identify themselves with labels that the writer of this article is so quick to ridicule. Mr. O’Dwyer seems to be pining for the days when a scamp such as himself could go about his domination of intellectual discourse, policy formation and the labour market without fear of competition from minorities which he has made an at best lazy and at worst condescending attempt at understanding.
As he points out in the first of several meandering, rhetorical paragraphs, the installation of unisex toilets isn’t a big deal to those who don’t need them. Transgender students just want a safe place to pee on campus. There is absolutely no reason for this writer to react so personally to a development which will have a minimal effect on his day-to-day life. Nobody is asking him to use these unisex toilets, on the contrary; he and those who share his views can continue to make use of the preexisting gendered toilets if it keeps them and their terrible attitude away from a vulnerable part of the student population.
It has long been Mr. O’Dwyer’s privilege, one which he resolutely refuses to acknowledge, to never have to petition for the accommodation of his basic needs within the public education system. Luckily for him, thanks to centuries of a dominant cisgender narrative, they have always been catered to and his loud incomprehension of the changing status quo speaks quite clearly to this fact. As it is our privilege not to contend with dilemmas such as gendered bathrooms on a daily basis, such it is our obligation to do whatever is in our power to make life easier for those who do. This includes not wasting the student body’s time with a whiny, poorly-written, self-indulgent article that shows nothing but antipathy for transgender and genderqueer student populations, whatever their size.
It isn’t just Mr. O’Dwyer’s attitude that can be found wanting on rudimentary inspection of his article, but his so-called ‘logic’ and even basic knowledge of his subject matter.
First of all, the cost of this project to universities has been grossly overestimated. Not only does it not cost “tens of thousands” to change a sign on a toilet door, but we should not reproach trans students for the cost of being made to feel comfortable within their own learning environment. The security of its students should be invaluable to any university board and Mr. O’Dwyer should be frankly embarrassed that he would have us believe otherwise.
Secondly, it absolutely does not fall within the competencies of a Students’ Union to deal with the national housing crisis or to tackle homelessness in this country. The funds spent on installing unisex bathrooms in UCD were never going to be diverted from solving these problems and it is testament to Mr. O’Dwyer’s poor skills of rhetoric that he even brought this issue up. Here he surprisingly makes an excellent point, the exploration of housing scarcity is another article, “or book”, altogether and has no place whatsoever in this debate.
Unfortunately however, one thing homelessness and the irish transgender community do have in common is an alarming rate of mental illness. According to a Trans Mental Health and Wellbeing Survey which was carried out in 2012, 78% of irish trans-identifying people reported experiencing suicide ideation and 40% had attempted. Rates of anxiety disorder and clinical depression within this demographic are also alarming, a situation which is regrettably often a direct result of the kind of public shaming and social exclusion that Mr. O’Dwyer appears all too comfortable propagating.
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of this piece and the one by which me and my friends were most honestly disgusted was the writer’s disrespectful language when describing the trans and non-gender-conforming community. This was including but not limited to calling new gender identities “exotic-sounding” and “invented”, “statistically negligible” (with the implication that they are thus not worthy of our attention) and “lacking in scientific evidence to support them”. This is not only deeply offensive but can be construed as a deliberate attempt to undermine the recognition such groups have struggled so long to achieve.
Mr. O’Dwyer is of course a firm believer in the “two-gender system” which he declares to be “scientifically correct”, whatever that means. Gender dichotomy is far from scientifically supported and has been repeatedly challenged in the academic and scientific world for more than thirty years. The very existence of intersex, non-binary and gender-fluid individuals disproves the theory of the two ‘natural’ genders and to declare otherwise is both dismissive and dehumanising.
Mr. O’Dwyer, thanks to his privileged exclusion so far from the actual issue of transgender rights and representation, has clearly not bothered to keep himself updated on the respectful associated terminology. It seems that he would rather show his true journalistic talent by spouting tired and discredited arguments than do some light research into this topic.
It’s not cool to be disrespectful and it’s probably time both the writer of this article and the Burkean Journal itself learnt a bit of empathy. Gender minorities need allies on campus and do not deserve to have the recognition of their rights disparaged online by those who could instead use this platform for their advocacy and protection. It’s my opinion and one that I’m sure others will share that the Burkean, should take some sort of sanction for the use of this discriminatory and offensive language regarding the LGBTQI+ community. Either that or stop gleefully associating itself with a student body that will not entertain such harmful speech. – Yours, etc,
JS European Studies, Trinity College Dublin