Some thoughts on “Gender is not a Spectrum” by Rebecca Reilly-Cooper

 

You can find the essay in question at the following web address:

https://aeon.co/essays/the-idea-that-gender-is-a-spectrum-is-a-new-gender-prison

I am not going to analyse “Gender is not a Spectrum” in any logical way.  The following are just some comments. I haven’t done anything much in the way of research, so they are just my opinions. I am not an academic or professional philosopher, just an elderly, reasonably educated transwoman.

  • The main problem for radical feminists is that gender is used as a negative term to describe the conditioning of children into perceived masculine and feminine roles, and that feminine roles have less value in most societies than masculine ones. I agree… mostly.

 

  • I agree that with the 20-20 vision of hindsight the change in language to describe transsexuals, transvestites and all other gender identities to be described as transgender was perhaps unfortunate. I think any attempt to divide transgender and transsexual is an attempt to divide and conquer. Transgender is the term we now have, so we transgender people claim it as the term to describe what we are, regardless of any attempts erase the word, the concept and the lived experience of millions of people throughout history. After all queer has no scientific meaning, is now used in a positive way to mean lesbian, gay or trans. So why this dissecting of transgender?

 

  • Transgender people are often subjected to public scrutiny which starts from a mindset that is puritanical with regard to anything to do with gender or sex. A whole culture has been built up questioning whether, particularly, transgender women can ever be real women, and should they be accorded any of the hard-won rights and services women have. There is a school of thought that wonders if gender identity is even a real thing. From her internet presence, this appears to be where Rebecca Reilly-Cooper starts from. She is an academic, a political philosopher from Warwick University I understand, and has posted videos and so on which question what gender identity is and whether it actually exists and argues it round and round and of course proves it doesn’t. It’s a neat trick but doesn’t explain the lived experience of an estimated 200 million people around the world who are apparently deluded, and we should all feel sorry for or laugh at.

 

  • Words like continuum and spectrum are used these days as if they are agreed scientific terms. These two words have pretty precise definitions when describing, for example, solid state physics, but when describing the human condition they are simple, but useful, analogies used to describe something we don’t fully understand because we don’t have better science and language with which to describe it. Media sound bite pundits love them as they give thema shorthand which they think everyone will understand, but very few people really do, along with popular scientific terms like sceptic, depression, chronic or nature vs nurture. Reilly-Cooper argues in terms of the binary folks at each end and non-binary identities in boxes in-between. The whole point about a continuum is that it is continuous, not necessarily linear, not necessarily with a beginning or an end and is definitely not divided into boxes. A continuum is something which changes in character gradually, without any clear dividing points. I regard that as liberating for all people wherever they feel themselves to be in that continuum at any particular point in time.

 

  • There is not in any real sense “a binary” other than as a concept that the advertising industry would like us to believe in. It is a convenient, inaccurate shorthand (like continuum and spectrum), and frankly this whole argument makes me think of medieval philosophers arguing about the number of angels you can get on a pin-head.

 

  • The assumption that gender (as in transgender) is nurture and sex is nature is one which many sociology and gender studies courses seem to continue to teach long after the science has shown that things REALLY AREN’T THAT SIMPLE! Any attempt to question this doctrine is tantamount to treason and is ridiculous and unimportant. The thing is, science (both physical and social) can’t prove anything. It can only state what has been found to happen when certain conditions are met. The science of transgenderism is very young. Yes, there are many coercive conditioning patterns throughout the world, it would be stupid to deny that. However, saying you weren’t socialised as a girl so you can’t be a girl is no longer a tenable argument.

 

  • I think she is genuine in her belief that it would be better if we were to abolish gender altogether. I am very concerned about her intentions in wanting to do that. Also, I don’t think it is a realistic goal in anything other than a few of the most liberal countries in the world. All of us leftie liberals want to make the world a fairer place in general for women, but it should not be at the expense of transgender people. Getting rid of gender won’t necessarily get rid of power structures which use gender to keep women under control. A more achievable aim might be to reduce the use of gender as a weapon of power and money. There is a desperate need in the world for “feminine traits” to be placed on an equal footing to the male ones, especially in monetary value. If that happens, thinking of them as masculine and feminine jobs will start to fade as people will become more interested in a good or rewarding job, rather than a woman’s or a man’s job. It is happening in those professions which have strict rules on equal pay and equal opportunity for men and women. More women reach the top of those professions. I think getting rid of the pay gap will do far more good for women. I’m an old fashioned socialist and equal pay for women, almost fifty years after the Equal Pay Act in the UK, is a much more pressing and important goal than getting rid of gender.
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Munroe Bergdorf: a bit of balance

Over the last year we have heard a lot of stuff about Munroe Bergdorf, a transgender model who has been has been trashed by large sections of the media for her comments on race. She was sacked from L’Oreal’s True Match campaign and decided to resign from her role as an LGBT advisor to the Labour Party. She became the victim of an onslaught by the Daily Mail (five articles criticising her in one week) and other right-wing papers who scoured every tweet she had made for years to find evidence for their character assassinations. As a direct result she received a plethora of tweets which threatened her with death, violence, and rape. She was too scared to leave her home for a week and described it as the worst week of her life.

So what caused all the fuss? Well the main thing was this tweet:

“Yes ALL white people. Because most of ya’ll don’t even realise or refuse to acknowledge that your existence, privilege and success as a race is built on the backs, blood and death of people of colour. Your entire existence is drenched in racism.”

What provoked this outburst? It was seeing the footage of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville last year, in which a protester against the rally was hit and killed by a white supremacist reversing his car down the road at speed.

Munroe is a person of colour who is very passionate about the causes she believes in. Her response was strong and maybe over the top, but really, does it deserve the treatment she got? Had she been a white middle class man would she have had to endure the treatment meted out? Absolutely not (unless it was Jeremy Corbyn)! The very papers which argue for freedom of speech were the ones who decimated her. Is this right now reserved only for “white toffs and homophobes, bigots and sexists, populists and supremacists. The rest of us must watch what we say, or else,” as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown thinks. I hope not.

Of course, this was not the only thing the papers found. They printed tweets from years ago when she was still presenting as a gay man which were meant as part of a “private conversation” between close friends; but as we have learnt over the last ten years nothing is “private” on social media. The tweets may be doubtful and maybe not in good taste, but they are not the evidence of her unsuitability ever to be allowed to talk about her experience as a trans woman, a woman of colour or a woman. Her tweets can be offensive, ill advised or not thought through, but she uses Twitter in the way that many younger people do, as a sort of notebook-cum-dear-diary often without much aforethought. As she settles into her still quite new life as a trans woman and realises that she is a role model, she will think more carefully about what she says in public and there will be less controversy over what she says and more respect for what she does and thinks.

Recently I have read some more of her writing on various topics, and it is well written and well argued. I shouldn’t have been surprised by this, as she did study English at Brighton University. My main reaction is that so much of the headline news about her has been both mis-quoted and taken out of context. Surprise, surprise! For instance, she did not say that women shouldn’t be allowed to talk about their reproductive systems, just that too much time was spent “centred” on women’s wombs, particularly when discussing trans women’s rights.

I’ve also seen her on several television programmes lately where she has come over as an intelligent woman who thinks carefully now about what she says. She has apologised profusely and, I believe, genuinely to those to whom she has caused offence, but is still treated with contempt by certain sections of society. Especially the feminists who want to deny trans women the right to self-identify as trans and make changes to the Gender Recognition Act (see previous posts on this blog).

Post Script

As part of the research for this post I watched “GenderQuake: The Debate” on All 4. If you saw it, you may have seen her shouted at by some women in the audience and she asked if they could be removed as she did not feel safe. It was not clear why she asked that at the time. All the panel members and audience were promised that it would be a safe space for them and if people misbehaved they would be asked to leave by security. Ash Sarkar, another member of the panel later revealed that every time Munroe spoke these women started chanting “Penis! Penis! Penis!” at her, but either this wasn’t picked up by the microphones or it was edited out. (It has become a bit of a thing with some radical feminists, because Munroe has consistently refused to say whether she has or hasn’t had gender confirmation surgery, as she quite rightly considers it no-one’s business but her own). No wonder she didn’t feel safe given recent events.

 

Transactivists and TERFs – where did all this come from?

I want to make it clear that most feminists are supportive of trans women and I will refer to them as supportive feminists. Feminists who are anti trans women I shall refer to as exclusive feminists. Also I support no action on either side which involves violence or bullying. This is not an academic text and so I will put references in only where I feel it important to do so.

Over the last ten years or so a toxic, antagonistic atmosphere has developed between exclusive feminists and some trans women who have become known as “transactivists”. The exclusive feminists blame the bullying, “masculine” behaviour of transactivists. Transactivists blame the refusal of what they call Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs) to accept them as women in any form as the reason for the growth of mostly peaceful, but very occasionally allegedly violent transactivism. TERF and transactivist have now become terms of abuse used by the opposite sides.

I want to try and examine where this impasse has come from. I am an older trans woman who has been around long enough to witness the growth of this phenomenon from its beginnings. I am a feminist and regard it as being as much a part of me as my trans identity.

The major problem for exclusive feminists is that trans people generally think being trans is more about what is in your head than what genitalia you have. These feminists argue that having male genitalia and thinking you are anything other than a man is mental illness and many refuse to call trans women anything other than “he”.

Since the 1970’s, particularly in America to start with, the development of second wave feminism* and the gay liberation movement gave rise to trans women wanting to become more accepted and they asked, quite politely at first, if they could be officially included in women only spaces. Quite a few trans women had in fact been coming to women’s gatherings quietly without ever being “sussed” as trans, but they wanted to make it more acceptable or official. The result was a resounding no from the growing anti-men elements of the women’s liberation movement. In many places lesbians were only just becoming accepted into women’s lib groups and trans women were a step too far. This seems to have been the start of the antagonism between trans women and feminists. (At this point in time trans men were almost totally invisible and many feminists and lesbians questioned whether such people even existed. They thought trans men were really butch lesbians.)

At this time there were an estimated one million people in the US who received no treatment for gender dysphoria (the mental stress caused by being trans in an unsympathetic society), and so the number of people having Gender Confirmation Surgery (GCS) was limited to those who could afford to pay. GCS was impossible for most of those who wanted it. The majority of trans people then, as now, do not want GCS and so continue to have male genitalia. This is the main stumbling block for exclusive feminists. In respect of treatment, things were possibly a tiny bit better for trans people in the UK as they have had various options available for treatment by the National Health Service (NHS) for a long time.

In 1979 a major feminist book was published, “Transsexual Empire” by Janice Raymond1. Its intention was to deny trans women acceptance as women by women and by society as a whole. It sought to demonise trans women as men wanting to “invade women’s space”. It made the argument that trans women were no more than men in drag trying to reinforce an “outmoded stereotype” of women. She was against treating trans people as a medical problem because it normalised being trans and made trans people more acceptable. The irony of that is that modern self-identifying trans people want to get rid of the medicalisation of transgenderism too, but as soon as they started arguing for that, the exclusive feminists changed the goal posts and said how are we going to know who are “real” trans women (i.e. have had GCS).

On this side of the pond Germaine Greer waded in with many offensive comments over the years, such as, famously, “Just because you lop off your dick doesn’t make you a fucking woman.” Nowadays she says it’s “unfair” that trans people should be able to decide what gender they are. Raymond and Greer’s effect on trans people living in the English speaking world, has been quite catastrophic. Whole generations of feminists have grown up believing their opinions to be fact. Their theories were wound up with old school sociological theory to give it more moral authority, and they have been reiterated as fact by exclusive feminists all over the western world.

Since the 1970s, feminists in Europe and America have used mostly fairly peaceful means to get their feminist message across. Marches and demonstrations, sit-ins, trying to shout down speakers at political meetings, infiltrating and disrupting high profile events of which they did not approve. In the long run the most effective strategy has been to educate people. The development of women’s studies/gender studies as an accepted subject in tertiary education is a testament to this.

More recently, younger feminists, many of them highly educated, have vociferously joined in the anti-trans argument. Over the years some became lecturers and professors, some columnists in newspapers. Positions of power which have allowed them to disseminate feminist theory of all kinds. Some use the respect they have rightly earned for their work on, for example, male violence towards women as a means to add weight to their views. These days websites such as Mumsnet provide an open platform to spread exclusive feminism.  Some volunteer on websites which do things like trying to track every trans woman who commits a violent crime, particularly if it is against a cis gender woman.

In my opinion the growth of transactivism is mostly due to the historical intransigence of exclusive feminists and is a monster of their own making. By seeing everything in terms of the patriarchy and trans women being men, they have blinded themselves to the fact that the more unpleasant they have been to trans women and the more they refused to engage in genuine debate with moderate trans activists, the more trans people have organised and done stuff in spite of them rather than with them.  For example, in the UK, trans people formed self-help groups such as The Gender Trust and campaigning groups like Press for Change. They campaigned for the 2004 Gender Recognition Act and inclusion in 2010 equalities legislation, at the time amongst the most forward looking set of rights for trans people anywhere.

The younger generation of trans women are able to organise a lot more easily and effectively than the older generation, through use of social media, and many are impatient and less ready to be nice. One of the things which has increased the tensions between the two groups is that for the first time ever there are trans teenagers who are out and proud, at least on the internet. These teenagers often have not finished their secondary education, let alone been to college or university. They are young and behave like… well… teenagers. They blast off on Twitter, or whatever the latest social media craze is. They mostly are not only going through puberty, but the wrong puberty. Teenage cis (not transgender) girls and boys often think they don’t like their bodies, but think what it is like for the trans girl whose voice is dropping, and she’s developing a beard! Why should she be nice to people who are often trying to deny her access to the treatment she feels is right for her? It’s not her fault if she is now nearly six feet tall and is perceived as threatening.

From the moment they declare themselves trans these youngsters are the objects of smear campaigns, they are told they are unnatural, ill, or delusional narcissists and that the last thing they are is women. I have been shocked by the scorn, vitriol, misinformation and crushing negativity about trans people I have found on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. I find it very difficult to cope with. What must this be doing to these trans children and young adults? No wonder when faced by older, more knowledgeable and far better educated women their response is to stand and chant that they are women. (A common complaint of exclusive feminists.)

I keep hearing that these trans girls are behaving like males and using male privilege and physicality to prevent (usually older, well educated, articulate, middle-class) women from speaking at meetings, whose aim is perceived as being to make life as difficult as possible for these trans youngsters. Well, they have learnt from from second wave feminists. The Angry Womyn’s tactics of the late twentieth century were not a lot different from the ones of the young transactivists of today. They also use demos, sit-ins and disruption in the same way you did before you became respected matriarchs. I don’t agree with “no platforming” personally, but I can totally see why trans students are using it as a strategy.  They feel totally out-gunned and have developed a siege mentality. Continually repeating that trans women are mentally ill narcissists may be debate to you, but to the young trans women growing up this is damaging hate speech. Transgenderism is gradually being taken out of the lists of mental illness in many countries, in much the same way homosexuality was in the 1990s. Gender dysphoria, however, is on the rise.

There are many aspects of this ongoing antognism I have not touched upon, for instance the debate, or lack of it, over proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act, but that was not my aim in this piece. Maybe I will write more later.

 

Post Script.

I tried really very hard to maintain some semblance of impartiality whilst writing this post. I realise that I failed in the end. What it has developed into is the view of a moderate trans woman trying to understand the mutual hatred that has developed amongst the transacitivsts and exclusive feminists. The amount of horrible stuff about transgender people, on the internet is amazing. It far outweighs many, many times the stuff being flung at the feminists. Most of the anti trans propaganda is stated as fact, but is usually far from the truth, often from highly suspect sources (e.g. “experts” who turn out to be Christian right bigots who are peddling their beliefs as fact) . I find it hard to understand how obviously intelligent women, many of whom I have respected for years, can put such a mountain of suspect objectivity on the shoulders of a small number of vulnerable young people and then not expect them to react badly. To those of you who are trying to argue the rights and wrongs of transgender people’s place in the world using your knowledge, reason and experience to attack or support us, remember that to transgender people, young and old, your reasoning is always deeply personal and often very hurtful to us. You are arguing over our very right to exist. Whether you believe we are deluded or not, choose your words carefully as they may be the ones which send someone’s son or daughter, brother or sister over the edge. If you think that is a bit melodramatic, three quarters of trans people have self-harmed and 50% have attempted suicide. Who knows how many others succeeded at their first or subsequent attempt? Of those who did not succeed, almost all give negativity and discrimination as the reason they attempt suicide, not the actual fact of being transgender.

Thank you for taking the time to read to the end.

*First wave feminism was the women’s suffrage movement in the late 19ThC- early 20thC

 

 

 

 

Trans Visibility Day March 31st 2018

TRANS VISIBILITY DAY 2018

A short piece on the Transgender Revolution

Saturday 31st of March has become a day used by trans people to celebrate the fact that we are here. Trans Visibility Day. So here is my contribution to this special day.

“There’s something in the air… the revolution’s here and you know it’s right”, to quote Thunderclap Newman. (Look it up young people).

It’s a matter of fact isn’t it? There are two sexes. God made Adam and Eve. Male and female. Ladies and gents. Boys and girls. It’s natural. Men have men’s bits and women have women’s bits, don’t they?

Weeeeell…  for most people…

Something most folks rarely if ever think about is the fact that there are people who aren’t. We have been around forever. Societies over the ages have called us different names, some respectful like “two spirits” others derogatory like “tranny”.  These days we are best known as transgender (trans for short), which is a term that lumps together a whole spectrum of people which gets broader and bigger as time goes by. According to who you ask it includes different groups, such as intersex people whose bodies does not conform to the male and female norms, transsexuals whose brains do not conform the body they have, cross-dressers who have a need to dress in the clothes of the opposite sex and a whole range of gender queer people who do not conform to the binary idea of female or male.

The Gender Recognition Act 2004 and The Equalities Act 2010 have made it unlawful in the UK to discriminate against trans people. This means not only can transphobic activities be counted as a hate crime in the same way that homophobic or racist ones can, but we have to be treated equally before the law. So schools, employers, police, the NHS, and so on have to treat us in the same way they would anyone else. This is not making a special case for us, just treating us with the same respect as everyone else. Hundreds of years of institutional discrimination have been wiped away, and over the past fourteen years there has been a remarkable increase in the number of people identifying as transgender. The number of referrals to the seven NHS gender identity clinics have increased by around 500% and that figure is still going up. The number of people having gender confirmation surgery has gone up by over 1000% at some of the smaller clinics and by 600-700% at others. Adult specialists have realised that children are pretty good at recognising they are transgender, so younger and younger children are being referred for counselling, and schools are treating children as the gender they say they are not what other people say they should be.  And no it is not a phase as some critics try to make out. Given the length of time it take to get to see child psychiatrists in this country there are rarely any “fads” left by that point. For the vast majority of kids it is just an incredible relief to find someone who believes them. Estimates of the number of people identifying as transgender in the population is steadily rising. In the 1990s I remember being told at Charing Cross Hospital that it was one in two thousand, now it’s around five in one thousand. Not huge numbers in terms of populations, but over all a twenty fold increase in people identifying as trans.

For trans people themselves the very real result of equalities legislation and better education about transgenderism has been much longer waiting times for medical treatment as cutbacks have made it impossible for the NHS to keep up with rising demand for services. The waiting list to get your first appointment at a Gender Identity Clinic varies from twelve to thirty months and that will usually be after at least a year waiting to see, and having treatment from, local psychiatrists.

There is now a whole generation of out and proud trans teenagers growing up in this country and they are finding each other on the internet. Talking to each other and finding ways through the problems of a profoundly confusing time, when your body starts to change you into the man or woman you don’t want to be. They are also talking about rights and politics and a new generation of politically aware young trans people is on its way. They are young, impatient, intelligent and have the arrogance of youth. It will be interesting to see how they develop.

I am being positive here because there are still some very scary negative statistics concerning young trans people. 80% have self-harmed, 50% have attempted suicide and, in the west, possibly as many as 15% have succeeded at their first attempt. It is difficult to know how many succeed. Even if they leave a suicide note parents are often either too ashamed or too angry to admit that their child committed suicide due to treatment meted out because they were transgender, unless it was from outside the family.  A well-known Indian study which looked at studies of trans teenager suicides from around the world said they found hardly any who said they attempted suicide because they were transgender. They all said it was due to the way they were treated by those around them, family, peers or society in general.

However, Trans Visibility Day is about celebrating all things transgender. So I want to end by saying that my generation of trans people grew up alone and confused. We had no rights, we had no information and we had no community. Rather than hammer away at those who were never going to change their mind we went round them and straight to government. We ended up with the Gender Recognition Act and with inclusion in the Equalities Act. The younger generation are doing both, trying to change the minds of the wider world and going straight to those in power who are open minded towards us. They are trying to find a quicker, less medical way of arriving at legal recognition for their preferred gender. When you are seventeen, six years is a hell of a long time. You may see it referred to as self-ID in the media, in articles which aren’t always sympathetic or truthful. Certain right-wing newspapers like nothing more than to do a character assassination on any trans person who is so bold as to put their head above the parapet. As witnessed by the Daily Mail’s five articles in seven days on Munroe Bergdorff, a controversial person, who has written some very inadvisable tweets, but when you take a little time to read things she has written (other than on Twitter) is actually a very intelligent and erudite person. She was forced to resign as a trans advisor to the Labour Party by the storm that the Mail cooked up.  Anyway, as yet, nothing has been decided about changing the GRA and the government is at the considering and consulting stage. (March 2018)

Things ARE getting better. Whilst some will undoubtedly continue to grow up alone and confused, there is now a growing community out there. There are centres of excellence like The Young Transgender Centre in Leicester where treatment from (in theory) nought to eighteen years old is setting standards of best practice which are starting to be copied around the country. Hopefully it will continue to become more available to all young transgender people.

A small revolution… and you know it’s right.

Response to article by Janice Turner in the Times Feb 2018

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.

 

A child’s right to be a boy, a girl or anything in between.

07:50 11/09/2017 BBC Radio 4 Today Programme.

An interview with Christian parents on the Radio 4 Today programme a few minutes before the eight o’clock news had me choking on my porridge this morning. An un-named primary school on the Isle of Wight is allowing a six year old child come to school dressed in girls or boys clothing. Also an older child was allowed to do the same thing some time ago. Apparently a Christian couple say this is confusing their children and they are going to “mount a legal challenge against the school, arguing it has not respected their rights to raise their children in line with biblical values.”*

They responded to the interviewer’s questioning with all sorts of quiet calm, loving reasonableness about the school, the parents and the children, but God made male and female and at six years old children don’t have the “the mental capacity” to deal with anything else. My reaction to that is that they are underestimating their children. They have plenty of capacity to sort it all out if things are explained in a clear and supportive way. It’s only when you shut down their minds by insisting that there are only boys and girls and do not accept that in fact there is a whole gender spectrum, and that people can be anywhere in between, right up to and including the fact that a child can feel they are a boy one day and a girl the next. They talked about their son being confused by it and were worried other children would be. They didn’t appear to have asked other parents or teachers about that. I can tell you from personal experience that if it is presented to children of primary school age in an age appropriate and informed way they will adapt very quickly to take it on board. It is only when there is a wall of silence or worse still parents telling them one thing and school telling them another that children become confused. I suspect the person who is the most confused in all this is the child in question.

One of the things that got me so incensed was that every time there is anything about say climate change on news programmes the BBC will, in the interests of balance, always roll out some old Tory pier to say that it’s all a load of rubbish in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. No-one who knows anything about transgender issues was asked for any evidence to the contrary. What happened this morning was acquiescence from the interviewer when they came out quietly and lovingly with some awful statements. For instance when the interviewer put to them that there is a lot of evidence that children who are prevented from expressing their gender identity have some of the highest rates of self-harm and suicide even at an incredibly young age, the father simply said we don’t believe that’s the case, it’s nothing to do with them not being accepted or bullied… to little or no reaction from the interviewer. Why didn’t she pick them up on that?

They thought that a political agenda was being pushed with the Equalities Act. Of course there is a political agenda, it’s called equality for all people regardless of whether YOU understand them or not. You may not like it, but that is a whole different thing. Respecting the other person’s right to be who they are is a fundamental human right. I hope we shan’t get to the situation in the United States where campaigns of misinformation on so called Christian family values websites and TV preachers have, in some states, turned public opinion completely around so that laws are now being passed which overtly discriminate against transgender people.

They also suggested that these sorts of things shouldn’t be sorted out at school in public, but at home with whatever support was needed there. You could argue with equal validity that their version of Christian values is something which should be sorted out at home and not take into the school in order to attack it for doing what they are required to do in respecting diversity.

Why a child should want to come to school dressed in boys’ and girls’ school uniform on different days is irrelevant as long as the child is doing so freely of its own choice and is not simple playing at being a member of the other sex. It would appear the school are OK with it and are satisfied there is a good reason. Just let them be.

*Daily Telegraph Joel Adams 10th September 2017

Welcome to Dee’s Diatribes

I live in the UK and I am getting old. I am often moved to laughter, anger, fear or sadness by the stuff I read read or watch on the internet, hear on the radio or see on the TV. I’m not in the greatest of health, but one thing I can do is type. My thoughts are as valid as anyone else’s and sometimes more valid than much of the crap I see written on the web and in newspapers, so I thought I would share thoughts about what’s going on in the world from the point of view of a reasonably well educated, older, white, left of centre (trans) woman.