04 December 2009

The Transphobe Who Can Ruin Your Day

Just when I was hoping that Julie Bindel had moved on from being actively transphobic, she's appeared in an, at-best, centre-right magazine called Standpoint (What the heck is a feminist, especially a self-proclaimed radical lesbian feminist, doing cosying up with the right?) with an article entitled "The Operation That Can Ruin Your Life".  Three guesses as to what operation she's referring to and the first two don't count.  I hate being a puppet dancing to strings being pulled by Ms Bindel, but I also can't let this sort of hate pass by uncommented.  I'll mostly be snarking, so fair warning.  I'm skipping large parts of the article because a full fisk would be interminably long.  It's also worth noting that in many ways this article is sort of her "greatest hits" on trans stuff in that she's stitched together material from previous articles she's written.  She even includes the quote about trans people and Grease that she later apologised for, showing just how insincere she can be when apologising.  That said, let's get to her article.

Almost immediately one has to wonder what world Ms Bindel lives in.  Referring to last year's Stonewall awards she says that "I, along with a police escort, walked past a huge demonstration of transsexuals and their supporters, shouting 'Bindel the Bigot'."  This should concern everyone.  In that I mean it should concern everyone that a protest of about 150 people is a huge demonstration in Bindel's eyes, that she remembers a chant that was not chanted, and that she also remembers having a police escort while others don't.  Of course since she also refers to the demonstrators as a "powerful lobby" who have been "hounding [her] for "five years", the real point here is to establish that: a) trans people are possibly dangerous, b) there are a lot of trans people, c) trans people are not activists trying to assert their rights (as feminists might be described) but are like industry lobbyists, and d) trans people are personally out to get her.  Notice how this is reinforced at the end of the same paragraph: "I now find that a number of organisations are too frightened to ask me to speak at public events for fear of protests by transsexual lobbyists."  Trans people are boogeypeople that scare people away from Bindel with their lobbying, ehr, protests.

"Feminists tend to be critical of traditional gender roles because they benefit men and oppress women."  Yes, yes, we do.  I couldn't agree with you more, Ms Bindel.  Glad we could find common ground.  Of course, then she completely rips that ground away by immediately following up by saying that "[t]ranssexualism, by its nature, promotes the idea that it is 'natural' for boys to play with guns and girls to play with Barbie dolls."  By talking about the "nature" of transsexualism (as though it somehow exists independent of actual transsexual people) and what is "natural", Bindel is trying to hit us over the head with the usual "You naive fools, you don't understand it's all socially constructed!" thing.  Just in case we were unclear on that she goes further with: "The idea that gender roles are biologically determined rather than socially constructed is the antithesis of feminism."  Again, I couldn't agree with her more since I am a feminist.  Gender roles are socially constructed.  How could they not be?  Of course the problem is that as a feminist and a transsexual woman, I see a difference between gender identity, gender expression, and gender roles.  For Bindel, like other radical feminists, gender identity, if it even exists, is the result of the imposition of gender roles as is gender expression.

Now, tell us how transsexual people came to be, Julie!  "Gender dysphoria (GD) was invented in the 1950s by reactionary male psychiatrists in an era when men were men and women were doormats."  Get that?  Transsexual people did not exist prior to the invention of the psychiatric definition of gender dysphoria.  Just like lesbians did not exist prior to Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis in 1886.  Gender dysphoria was also invented by reactionaries making transsexualism reactionary as well and unable to be changed by transsexual people from those roots.  Just like feminism can never change from its roots as a movement only concerned with the rights of some women.  Hmm, maybe she does have a point there, after all.  It's also vital that we remember that the psychiatrists were male because this also makes transsexuality, and thus transsexual people, forever the handmaiden of patriarchy, eternally opposed to feminism.  No transsexual person can really be a feminist (I'm a sparkly pink unicorn with a false consciousness).

"[Gender dysphoria] is a term used to describe someone who feels strongly that they should belong to the opposite sex and that they were born in the wrong body."  Yes, it does describe people who think that.  Of course, it also no longer exists as a diagnosis anymore, having been replaced quite some time ago by "gender identity disorder".  But if Bindel used the current term she couldn't as easily ignore the difference between gender roles and gender identity.  Also, a number of transsexual people disagree with the whole "born in the wrong body" thing.  My body is not the wrong body, it's my body.  What other body would I have been born in?  Also, I don't believe I should belong to the "opposite sex" as this implies that there are only two sexes, that these are natural and not somehow socially constructed, and that intersex people do not exist (or exist only as "mistakes" of one of the two sexes).  I do claim that I have issues with my body, but I have a hard time being able to articulate these issues in a way that is comprehensible to cissexual people, as it can not reach them unfiltered by societal and personal prejudices.

"[Gender dysphoria] has no proven genetic or physiological basis."  And your point is?  Neither does sexual orientation or bipolar disorder (Thank you, Arwyn!).  Does this mean that lesbianism doesn't exist?  Wait, I forgot, Bindel is a political lesbian who appropriated a lesbian identity as a result of her politics.  Actually, I suspect that Bindel's point is that this means transsexuality must be a mental (read: "not real") illness with all the bad connotations that being "crazy" carries with it.

"But no oppressed group ever insisted its emotional distress was the sole basis for the establishment of a right. Indeed, transsexuals, along with those seeking IVF and cosmetic surgery, are using the NHS for the pursuit of happiness not health."  Bindel makes a complete disability fail here.  People with mood disorders?  They need to stop being treated by the NHS, because they're only pursuing happiness not health.  Women who've been emotionally abused?  Not a health issue, because they're just pursuing happiness not health.  I could go on, but I think I've made the point.  The idea that happiness is somehow independent of health  is a privileged notion, expressed by those for whom happiness is not a health issue.  Honestly, I don't think transsexual people would be all that emotionally distressed if we didn't have to deal with a world where Bindel's views are the norm.  The emotional distress arises mainly from the rejection of our autonomy, the insistence that we are bad, that we are wrong, that we are the symptom/cause of societal problems, that we are to blame for the prejudices of others.  Speaking of autonomy, I base the establishment of a right to treatment not on emotional distress but on bodily autonomy, the same basis for the right to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term or not.  My body, my choice.  But, of course, Bindel wants to portray transsexual people as emotionally disturbed, vain, and unnatural (don't think I missed the comparison to IVF and cosmetic surgery) just the same as has been done to women seeking the vote and queer people seeking the right to live openly.

Speaking of treatment, can you tell us about it, Julie?  "Treatment is brutal and the results far from perfect."  Wow, brutal.  Why exactly is it brutal?  Is it because it sometimes involves surgery?  Do they not use anaesthetic?  Or, is Julie just using inflammatory language?  I'm glad that Julie is there protecting transsexual people from the mistaken belief that we can evaluate for ourselves if surgical results are acceptable enough for us for those contemplating surgery.  But, no, surgery must be perfect.  BTW, what exactly does perfect mean and who decides what is perfect (if not Julie, since I'm sure she can't be called in for a consult for everyone considering surgery)?  We already ruled out transsexual people.  Maybe we should have a poll on the Daily Mail's website?  Also, I would say that hormone replacement therapy, which Bindel significantly fails to mention at all for transsexual women, is neither brutal nor far from perfect.  It hasn't hurt a bit and I'm fairly happy with my breasts (though not as happy as my fiancĂ©e is;  ahem).  Bindel's preoccupation with surgery is typical of cissexual fixation on "the surgery" (which usually only means surgery for trans women) as though it were the defining event in all transsexual people's existences (I'm certain she wouldn't bring up the removal of facial hair for transsexual women at all if she couldn't characterise it as painful).  She willfully ignores the fact that not all transsexual people undergo any surgery, since some never desire surgery, some decide that the results aren't acceptable for them, and some don't like the pain that any surgery involves (I was personally less-than-thrilled with the pain of recovering from my emergency appendectomy).

Since Bindel has made clear she is totally not transphobic, she'd never misgender someone, a transphobic act.  So this never appears anywhere in the article: "In other words, a pre-operative man could apply for a job in a women — only rape counselling service and, if refused on grounds of his sex, could take the employer to court on the grounds that 'he' is legally a 'she'."  Nope, that does not appear in the article at all.  Again, note the preoccupation with "the surgery".  After all, we all know that one of the requirements for counselling is that the counsellor expose her genitals to the person being counselled.  Oh, hang on, no, it's not.  And, it's not like such a trans woman would know anything about being raped because she might have been raped.  Oh, hang on again, a trans woman might well know.  So we're left with the simple transphobic assertion that trans women aren't women.  Because "woman" is socially constructed and absolutely based on the determination made about the woman's genitals at birth.  It's socially constructed on biological essentialism.  As we've already seen above, physical sex can not be socially constructed.  Pull the other one, it's got bells on.

Now we get to where Bindel clearly misrepresents a quote while failing to properly attribute it.  She introduces it with "A definition of transsexualism used by a number of transsexual rights organisations reads:"  which is then followed by a paragraph which I will reproduce in a moment.  I tracked down where the paragraph of quote came from since I'm always suspicious of direct quotes loosely attributed to unidentified organisations.  It turns out she copied it from Beyond the Binary: A Tool Kit for Gender Identity Activism in Schools which was put out in 2004 by the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, the Transgender Law Center, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (notice how only one of those is specifically a trans rights organisation and it's not exclusively for transsexual rights).  The paragraph Bindel quotes in her article comes from a section at the beginning entitled "What is Gender?".  Bindel quotes the paragraph thusly:
Students who are gender non-conforming are those whose gender expression (or outward appearance) does not follow traditional gender roles: "feminine boys," "masculine girls" and students who are androgynous, for example. It can also include students who look the way boys and girls are expected to look but participate in activities that are gender nonconforming, like a boy who does ballet. The term "transgender youth" can be used as an umbrella term for all students whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth and/or whose gender expression is non-stereotypical.
 She then uses it to say that "According to this definition, a girl who plays football is trans-sexual."  Harharhar.  Only Bindel is being intellectually dishonest.  She doesn't quote the whole paragraph which continues on to say:
Some transgender students transition or change from one gender to another. Transition often means changing the way you dress, selecting a new name, and sometimes getting help from a doctor to change your body.
But, wait, I thought this was a definition of transsexualism?  Why would they say that some transgender students transition since that's what transsexualism involves?  It's simple.  This is not a definition of transsexualism, it's an explanation of gender non-conformity and transgender (including transsexuality).  In a nifty sleight of hand, Bindel uses the explanation of gender non-conformity as though it's explaining transsexualism.  Which lets her make her snarky little comment, which isn't even that original (WARNING: link to trans hate site).  Of course, last I checked, football (that's soccer to North American-types) is played by girls and womenWorld CupOlympics?  Is any of this ringing any bells?  Maybe Julie could catch a match at the London Olympics in 2012?  Heck even when I was a child (centuries ago) girls played to a remarkable lack of comment.  Anyway, moving on from the fact that Ms Bindel seems to be completely clueless about girls' participation in sports, there's the far more important issue that she feels that twisting, warping, misrepresenting...  Heck, let's be honest.  The far more important issue is that she lies.  This was not simply misunderstanding.  She went to some effort to twist what was said to be able to use it to imply that transsexualism causes transsexual people to mistake one thing, lack of conformance to norms of gender expressions, for another, having a gender identity that conflicts with one's body.  We have a false consciousness.  Except, of course, we don't.  But Bindel is hardly one to let reality stop her from getting her way.

Of course Julia next trots out Claudia, the same woman who she's been using as an example of how damaging transsexual treatment is since 2003.  However, the problem with using Claudia as an example of trans regret is how Claudia ended up transitioning.  I'm not going to go into it here, but looking at the article Bindel originally wrote about Claudia in the Guardian, the facts are more complex than "Here's a trans woman who regretted her surgery."  In fact, Claudia's case reminds me of the sorts of situations whereby lesbians and gay men can end up married to someone of the "opposite" sex and with children before they come out.

Skipping a bit, Bindel again lays down the unalterable facts of biology for us.  "Medical science cannot turn a biological male into a biological female — it can only alter the appearance of body parts. A trans-sexual 'woman' will always be a biological male."  I could go into how even the most ardent of transphobes, Janice G Raymond, acknowledged that what defined male and female in a biological sense was a combination of chromosones, types of gonads, primary and secondary sexual characteristics, hormone levels, and so on (although she, like Germaine Greer and others ultimately fetishises chromosomes) and the fact that we've already covered the erasure of intersex people, but I'd rather just say, "So what?"  Even if we grant what she says is true, that there is some sort of absolute, non-arbitrary measure of biological sex, what does biological sex have to do with social gender?  By using the case of a trans woman rapist, Bindel implies rape is only by penis and no penis means no rape.  This erases the fact that some FAAB people rape (even though English law does not classify it as such) and shifts the blame from people to body parts.  More insultingly, it erases the fact that trans people are far more likely to be victims of rape (eg, when trans women are placed in men's prisons) than perpetrators.

Next, we move back to the "trans people are big meanies" line of argument with which Bindel started this article.  "There is a handful of radicals in the world today who have dared to challenge the diagnosis of transsexualism."  I agree.  That's why there have been so few people at things like protests of the APA's lack of reform of the diagnosis in the DSM.  But, of course, what Bindel really means by challenging the diagnosis, as she has already made clear above, is challenging the rights to autonomy of trans people.  Because if she was only challenging the diagnosis she would find that a lot of trans people would join her in doing so.  I would.  But in demanding that we submit to her ideas of what we should do with our bodies, she is not radical, nor is she challenging a diagnosis.  She then goes on with examples of what big meanies trans people are and frankly I'm bored with that sort of thing and won't address them (beyond saying that I do not endorse wishing a painful death or harm on anyone).

Now we come to the conclusion, where Julie shows her true opinion of trans people: we don't deserve to exist.  Or, as she puts it: "In a world where equality between men and women was reality, transsexualism would not exist."  To her, we're a symptom of social inequality between the sexes.  We lie when we talk about who we are not having to do with that (and, in fact, making it harder for getting people to understand who are because people assume it has to do with the fact that men are treated one way and women are treated another).  She has decided what the truth is, and we're not going to change her mind even if she has to lie to herself and others to insure that she doesn't.  Speaking of which: "Sex-change surgery is unnecessary mutilation."  She has not proven this because she can't prove this even as she can't prove trans people won't exist in a world of gender equality.  She can only assert it and ignore what trans people say about the matter, because, to her, we lack the knowledge of our own lives, our own bodies, society and so on to choose for ourselves.  We need her paternalistic concern, her protecting us from ourselves, to replace the paternalism of the current gatekeepers of psychiatrists and others.

Finally, there's this: "Using human rights laws to normalise trans-sexualism has resulted in a backward step in the feminist campaign for gender equality."  I keep seeing this assertion made by Bindel and others.  I'll be frank.  I don't see this.  When people assert this they never point to examples of how this is happening that don't involve the assumption that the advancement of trans rights is a defeat for gender equality, something I don't buy at all.  Only if one subscribes to the twisted fable of transsexuality that Bindel pretends is a reality does this make sense.  The reality where I transitioned to wear pretty dresses and make up and am demure when I stay at home and cook for a man.  The reality of a fantasy world.  Here in the real world, I wear jeans and t-shirts, no makeup, am not demure at all, am a university student, and am working on learning to cook for a woman.  Oh, yes, and I try to work towards actual gender equality.

Still, I'm sure all of this won't change Julie Bindel's views.  She lives in that elaborate constructed fantasy where there's a theory that explains why I'm trans (just like the psychiatrists have theories) and anything I have to say has no bearing on it.  Instead, I write this to point out that in pushing this malarky, Bindel argues not for a world of equality but for a world where she gets hers and others pay the price for it.  Her words also support treating trans people as incapable, incompetent, as less than others, as deserving the treatment we get.  In other words, she may not directly encourage harm to us, but she certainly gives intellectual cover to those who do.