Trans writer Liz Duck-Chong says the 'marketplace of ideas' is all well and good, but Greer's ideas are not new, not relevant, nor are they a valuable contribution to an ongoing conversation.
By
Liz Duck-Chong

31 Jul 2018 - 1:15 PM  UPDATED 30 Aug 2018 - 2:16 PM

Who belongs at our festivals?  The Brisbane Writers Festival's decision to exclude the likes of Bob Carr and Germaine Greer from their lineup has stirred a tempest. In response, the Greek chorus of opinion materialises to complain about a democracy of voices, and the moral lessons to be drawn from tolerance for the intolerant. 

As Richard Flanagan writes for The Guardian, this thought policing ensures prejudices are "perfectly preserved forever, unchallenged, unquestioned."

And yet, in blindly holding up the perspectives of Greer and her ilk as not only worth listening to, but a valuable contribution to an ongoing conversation, we ignore that her views are demonstrably neither of these things. It is possible to both point out that someone has written important and still-relevant work and that they are no longer doing so. The 'marketplace of ideas' is all well and good, but browning produce makes for better compost than conversation.

Flanagan writes that a "writer, if they are doing their work properly, rubs against the grain of conventional thinking", and yet lands smack in the middle of the most white-bread perspective possible.

The problem is that it isn't a radical perspective to say that transgender women are not women (as Greer has said), let alone a vaguely interesting or new one. Despite her many, many transphobic outbursts, we're supposedly to feel incensed that a person who has lashed out at survivors of assault, genital mutilation victims, and Steve Irwin (apparently), is being denied a literal stage for those views. 

We live in a world that routinely sees transgender people at some of the highest risk of societal prejudice and state violence; a perceived other so violating of norms that we are fired, assaulted, denied care, and murdered at alarming and increasing rates. It is in this world that the supposedly tolerant position is to provide people who demonstrably contribute to that harm with an hour, a microphone and an audience. 

As Australian literary festivals have had to have reckon in the recent past with writers like Lionel Shriver and Junot Diaz, the conversation continues, forcing difficult questions of their organisers and attendees. Talk is not free of the harm that it can perpetrate, and provision of space is not free from criticism. The idea that a festival, like any public space, will be "safe" is unfeasible, but as safety is a goal to be worked toward, it follows that work must be put in. 

All these tired opinions about seeking debate or reaching tolerance only go to strengthen the status quo, as it is invariably involves those on the record as contributing to the harm of under-represented populations and at times obstructed from the industry at large, publications, and festivals.

All these tired opinions about seeking debate or reaching tolerance only go to strengthen the status quo, as it is invariably involves those on the record as contributing to the harm of under-represented populations and at times obstructed from the industry at large, in publications, and at festivals. 

There are underlying in these views a fog-machine haze of a fear of irrelevance and frustration at a changing world. The ramshackle scenery and out-of-date script are obscured from view, but they are an integral part of this perspective.

Flanagan writes that a "writer, if they are doing their work properly, rubs against the grain of conventional thinking", and yet lands smack in the middle of the most white-bread perspective possible. 

The platforms that we are given hold weight, and having our opinions be not only aired but given editorial preference is an act of empowerment. We live in messy times, and there are messy dialogues yet to be had — yes, even at writers' festivals. But by starting on a footing that discards the obvious chaff and allows space for marginalised voices to come to the table in the first place, we create a framework to have those debates with the tolerance and care they require. This is the perspective that requires courage, and requires work, and surely that's an idea worth writing about.

Liz Duck-Chong is a queer, trans and non binary woman. You can follow her on Twitter @lizduckchong or www.lizduckchong.com.

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