Please read this Facebook post before reading this blog post.
Truth is what you want it to be seems to be the whole direction of society these days and both sides are guilty of it.
First let me set out my qualifications (or lack of them) to talk about this. I am a trans woman and identify as just that. For everyday purposes I live as an out, lesbian woman. I am married. I had gender confirmation surgery almost twenty years ago and was among the first tranche of trans-women to receive a Gender Recognition Certificate. It is my most treasured possession. And I have been a feminist since the age of twelve, when I recognised the Victorian misogyny with which my father treated my mother, controlling almost every aspect of her life.
First I want to deal with the distractions in this article.
I find the comparison between the need for transgender people to be listened to and transubstantiation a bit offensive. Ok it makes a good journalistic intro, but does nothing to advance the discussion.
The whole point about where are the trans men is under researched. Trans men have joined the patriarchy and are mostly able to navigate their way successfully in that world unnoticed. Some are feminists, some are not. They can and do get on the covers of magazines. It took me thirty seconds on the internet to find Aydian Dowling who graced the cover of Rolling Stone. Most of the trans men I have met have settled very comfortably into the patriarchy with comparatively few obstacles, unless it’s standing up to pee in the men’s toilets, which it seems takes a lot of horrible surgery. After testosterone injections their voice drops and very many of them sport a beard of some description and hey presto they are men and few question it. Society as a whole seems to understand transmen as a step “up”. When going from male to female a step “down” seems to be less understood. I have been asked numerous times by both men and women, “Why would you want to be a woman?”
I believe it is much more difficult for trans women who have gone through testosterone fuelled puberty which lowered the voice and have had their bone structure masculinised. I’m not talking about L’Oreal models, just ordinary trans women. Most trans women find passing as a woman (if that is what they wish to do) much more difficult, even if they have had years of oestrogen therapy.
As so often happens journalists pick on the extremes of any group and then use them as evidence of why this or that should or shouldn’t happen. Picking a serial sex offender, a L’oreal model and a Celebrity Big Brother contestant may make for more exciting reading, but hardly passes as a relevant sample!
It’s so easy to pick up on the ridiculous stuff and ignore the real issues involved. I totally agree that women talking about their periods, their children or whatever other life experiences they have is normal and attempts to curtail that are stupid. Oh, and Caitlin Moran is one of my idols and I will not have a word said against her! As far as Celebrity Big Brother is concerned… male entitlement to shout, even at an eighty-two year old.. nah! Just not a very nice person. If Janice Turner and Linda Bellos haven’t come across unpleasant women who shout at people for no very good reason, then they live in a very rarefied world. And don’t get me on to the number of lesbians who’ve wanted to shut down conversations about children and families! 😉 As for the serial sex offender, playing devil’s advocate and only half serious because the whole thing is so ridiculous, maybe a spell in a female violent offenders unit would be the best result possible. Maybe they’d make him a bit more female if you get my drift. Seriously, if (s)he gets anywhere near a women’s prison the world has gone mad. Maybe solitary confinement there would be alright?????
The main point which Janice Turner makes is that self-ID transwomen have penises. Whilst it’s true that more transgender women choose to live as women and don’t wish to go down the surgery route; at least part of the reason is due to the way trans people have been treated by the NHS, not only because of healthcare cut backs, but also because the gender identity clinic route is very tough mentally and physically. In addition to that waiting lists are growing because the number of people being referred is rising steadily as people are more aware of transgender as a possible diagnosis. In the not too distant future the biggest gender identity (GID) clinic in England at Charing Cross Hospital is closing its doors as the trust wants to concentrate its scarce resources elsewhere… just as the NHS regulators are demanding a large increase in trans services. They confidently predict that services won’t be affected, but forgive me if I’m sceptical. I predict a steep rise in cases of depression and anxiety and a rise in the number of suicides in a group already with one of the highest rates in the population. I also predict a steep rise in the number of trans women who continue to have penises as they cannot get access to services which might lead to gender confirmation surgery.
There is also the whole issue about whether being trans requires medical diagnosis, and who are the best people to judge whether someone is “genuinely” trans or not, and if they are genuine, how do they access the services they need…
Most of the trans women I know do not have penises. We come from an older generation where you were either a transvestite or a transsexual and the two really didn’t mix that much. As far as transsexuals were concerned we weren’t transgender, -gender was a social construct, -sexual was biology and it was the biology that was wrong. For that reason I genuinely have some sympathy for the notion that you can’t be a woman if you have a penis. Calling it a she-nis alters nothing. Still…
Self-ID is a big issue for both trans people and born women at the moment. It’s not so long ago that people regarded being gay as a medical condition. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that it was taken out of the official list of mental illnesses in the UK. Now no-one except right-wing religious and political groups would dare to suggest that it is a mental illness, or that you would need to go to a doctor to live as a gay man or woman or suffer conversion therapy. Being trans has continued to be a medical condition for two reasons. You have to see doctors in order to get access to NHS hormones and to gender confirmation surgery. The vast majority of us would say attending the gender identity clinic made no difference to our need to have our gender identity recognised and treated. At best it was tough, at worst it was insulting and demeaning, especially if you got the wrong psychiatrist. Some were better than others. The GID clinics act as gatekeepers not facilitators. Some would argue that is a good thing.
There is conflict within the trans world between those who want NHS surgery or can’t afford private hormone treatment and so want it to remain a medical condition and those who don’t and want us to be able to self-ID. I don’t expect to ever change Linda Bellos’ mind, but for those a bit more open minded I would argue I think a better analogy than black v. white would be to ask what makes you think you are a lesbian (or bisexual or heterosexual or whatever floats your boat). Apart from a few political lesbians the vast majority just know we are. Our sexuality isn’t a choice. Just as being gay is not a “lifestyle” choice, neither is being trans. It causes as much suffering and anxiety as coming to terms with being gay with the added bonus of looking at yourself in the bath or in a mirror and thinking WTF is that! So why do you need a doctor to pathologise you and tell you what you are? This is why the self-ID movement came about. Trans people are doing what LGB people and women have done throughout the last hundred years. Making our voices heard until people take notice and start to understand the problems we face and the rights we have. Our journey is very similar to the journey you face, and young trans people are fed up with the ill treatment and malicious gossip they are subjected to by the media and are starting to fight back. Good on them… BUT…
The common sense assertion that women don’t have penises is a barrier, given the awful stuff penises can be used for. I can understand this, but I don’t have an answer to it. All I can say is don’t paint us all with the same brush. Looking at the whole rainbow of trans people through a blinkered radical feminist lens which can’t see beyond the male privilege we “enjoyed”, and saying that it excludes trans people from the “women club” is as dangerous as some of the trans activists who allegedly chant “”trans women are women”. Over and over, like a catechism.”
I lived in a sort of twilight world for forty odd years, and yes I did have male privilege, but it was little recompense for the inner turmoil of living in a world of pitfalls, in a state of constant hypervigilance. Wondering when I was going to be found out and what would happen when that happened. What that has done is to make me more aware of the machinations of male privilege than any born woman can ever be. Surely using that knowledge to forward the cause of equality is far more sensible than having arguments over genitalia and what a tiny minority might just possibly do with them. Having been a victim of anal rape and been so badly beaten and bullied that the physical scars are still there for all to see and the mental ones still cause anxiety and depression, I understand the need for safe spaces when it comes to victims of sexual, physical and mental abuse. Everyone needs to feel safe. In those circumstances whatever groupings are needed should be provided for victims, but once the space is provided it is for the victims themselves to control who can enter the group, not well meaning outsiders.
As for born women only groups, you are perfectly entitled to form whatever ad hoc groups without the presence of trans women that you like. That’s fine. Although I do feel that some of the time the desire for born women groups harks back to the trans exclusionary ideas of some very famous feminists of the sixties and seventies who really hated trans women and feel/felt that we were just men dressing up in women’s clothes in order to invade women’s spaces. Believe me most of us have not the slightest desire to do that. We’re too busy trying to sort our own mess out.
The important thing is that official groupings such as the Labour Party have to be inclusive of self-ID trans women or fall foul of equality legislation, and having been a Labour supporter all my life I would expect nothing less than openness and inclusivity. Jeremy Corbyn has been very brave coming out in favour of self-ID transwomen and I for one admire him for doing it. However, I think the argument going on in the party over self-ID trans women can be solved simply. Put it to the vote of party conference later in the year, and until then keep everything as it is. In the meantime it is perfectly OK for both groups of women to lobby, hold meetings, inform and persuade party members. This must be done in a respectful manner, without bullying or pressure being applied by either side. I am confident that the membership will make the proper decision and whatever the decision is the losing side has the right to continue to campaign.
To me the whole argument seems to depend on your definition of womanhood, and if you pass the penis test, what rights that gives you to police that definition. In my view no group has the right to impose a definition on other people. That way leads to the ridiculous situation they have in the U.S. where a group of radical feminists have allied themselves to Christian right politicians. Do they not see that by attacking the rights of trans women in this way they are giving up everything that feminists have fought for down the years?
I know I’ve gone off the point a bit, but I’m tired now and want to go and veg in front of the box and watch an episode of Grace and Frankie.