Let's Get a Few Things Straight, Shall We?

by Shaker KiriAmaya, an autistic trans woman who adores cats and plays way too many videogames.

Julie Bindel is a feminist who has written some neat feminist stuff. Julie Bindel is also a transphobe. Sadly, the two are not mutually exclusive. My first exposure to her writing was this lovely bit of trans hatred, which ended with, "I don't have a problem with men disposing of their genitals, but it does not make them women, in the same way that shoving a bit of vacuum hose down your 501s does not make you a man."

...yeah. I love how anti-trans people will say stuff like this, and then turn around and say that we're the "essentialists" who "reify gender".

Anyway, she wrote and said a lot more things along those lines over the years, but it didn't stop her from being nominated for a Journalist of the Year award by the UK organization Stonewall (yet more evidence that the "T" in GLBT is for decorative purposes only). Trans people and allies protested that nomination, and she's been whining ever since that trans folks—who mostly just want to be themselves, go to the bathroom, not get murdered, etc.—are *gasp* being mean to her! Won't somebody please think of the poor, poor transphobes?

And recently, a friend of mine made me aware that Bindel has, once again, let slip the dogs of fail. This particular screed cheesed me off so much that I had to ask Liss if I could fisk it on here, and she graciously agreed. So, here I go.

To understand where Bindel and other anti-trans feminists are coming from, let's skip ahead to the last paragraph for a moment, where she makes this statement:
In a world where equality between men and women was reality, transsexualism would not exist.
This is what she believes, and it informs all her understanding of trans issues. The problem, of course, is that it's flatly untrue.

Let's start with the faultiness of the premise that "equality" equals "sameness." (See the discussion in this thread.) Women and men can be equal without being the same, so the hypothetical equality of which Bindel speaks is ultimately irrelevant to the position of being something you're not—except insomuch as one can imagine that in such a truly gender-equal society, no one would think less of someone who identified as male, or female, or genderqueer, or even some completely new concept that made sense only to hir. There would be no reason to define these roles as rigidly as Bindel does, because everyone would get to define hir gender for hirself, and nobody would think less of hir for it. At least, that's the world I want.

Transition is only partly about social gender. When we who transition talk about our bodies, hormones, etc. feeling wrong for us, we're not just making shit up; it really is how we think and feel. Different transitioning people feel differently about their bodies, of course—some are perfectly fine with the genitals they were born with, for example—but a perfectly gender-equal society, while it would certainly make things a lot easier for us, wouldn't magically make our dysphoria go away. I've done a few informal polls of my transitioning friends over the years, asking if they would still want to transition if society didn't have any gender hangups, and the answer has always been unanimous: yes, of course they would, because they still wouldn't feel comfortable in their own skin.

You want science? Okay, here, have some science. While I don't care for some of the word choices in that study, and I agree that it's problematic to assign genders to brains, it's still pretty clear here that there's more going on than just people deluding themselves.

Really, I could end this post with that, because Bindel's bogus idea of transness is the cornerstone of everything she says and writes about us, and so smashing it brings the entire edifice crumbling down.

I'm gonna fisk this thing in some detail anyway, though. It helps to understand the arguments people make against us, and how to refute them. It's also kinda cathartic, you know?

So, on the first page is a photo showing a small teenage girl on the left, and a taller, broader-shouldered woman on the right. The caption reads, "A photographic exhibition at the Hammer Museum, University of California Los Angeles, shows a comparative study between teenage girls and adult male-to-female transsexuals". 'Cause, y'know, comparing women based on their looks is totes feminist. Also 'cause cis women can't possibly be tall or broad-shouldered. Also 'cause only small, thin teenagers can actually be women. Argh, so much fail, and we haven't even started the article yet!
Last year, I was nominated for the Stonewall Journalist of the Year award. This seemed fair enough since I write prolifically about sexuality and sexual identity. But I guessed that Stonewall would not dare give me the prize, because a powerful lobby affiliated with the lesbian and gay communities had been hounding me for five years. Six weeks later I, along with a police escort, walked past a huge demonstration of transsexuals and their supporters, shouting "Bindel the Bigot". Despite campaigning against gender discrimination, rape, child abuse and domestic violence for 30 years, I have been labelled a bigot because of a column I wrote in 2004 that questioned whether a sex change would make someone a woman or simply a man without a penis.
Didn't we already do this with Joe the Plumber? Look, Ms. Bindel, it's like this: If you talk like a bigot and act like a bigot, people will call you a bigot. And going, "Oh, but look at all the good stuff I did!" isn't going to absolve you of that, any more than Joe doing, uhh, whatever it is he did will absolve him of his own bigotry.
Transsexualism, by its nature, promotes the idea that it is "natural" for boys to play with guns and girls to play with Barbie dolls.
Gwuh? So my strong desire to have a more feminine body and be recognized as female means I want to play with Barbie dolls? This is news to me! I mean, I have some old Star Trek action figures; do they count? What about my trans woman friend who plays sports and wants to join the military? What about that trans man I knew who loved dressing in pink from head to toe? What about those trans people who mix and match gendered behaviors according to their whims, thus actively defying the binary?
I wrote: "Those who ‘transition' seem to become stereotypical in their appearance — f**k-me shoes and birds' nest hair for the boys; beards, muscles and tattoos for the girls. Think about a world inhabited just by transsexuals. It would look like the set of Grease."
Uhh, you're getting your boys and girls switched 'round, there, Ms. Bindel. But anyway…

I know tons of trans people, and not a single one looks anything like what she's describing here (y’know, not that there’d be anything wrong with it if they did). Sure, lots of trans folks experiment with exaggerated stereotypes when they first accept that they're trans, in much the same way that cis people do when they're little kids—except, in a lot of trans people's cases, they do it because they never got the chance to before. After that, though, most trans folks seek to find a look that works for them, which can be absolutely anything, not necessarily the looks Bindel's describing here. And even if they did go for such looks, why would it matter? Seriously, what's wrong with people choosing the looks they want?

Especially when failing to pass can be dangerous. There is perhaps no more vicious expression of cis privilege than complaining about trans people conforming their appearances to gender-based stereotypes when nonconformity could mean risking their very lives.
Gender dysphoria (GD) was invented in the 1950s by reactionary male psychiatrists in an era when men were men and women were doormats.
You know, this would be a perfect opening to explore some of the narratives behind transmisogyny, but of course she doesn't do this, as it would interfere with her "trannies are bad" narrative.
GD has no proven genetic or physiological basis.
Of course there's no proof, because science doesn't work that way. As I mentioned before, however, there is ample evidence that we trans people and our allies aren't just talking out of our collective ass.
A review for the Guardian in 2005 of more than 100 international medical studies of post-operative transsexuals by the University of Birmingham's Aggressive Research Intelligence Facility found no robust scientific evidence that gender reassignment surgery was clinically effective.
The only Guardian article I can find on this was actually from 2004, so I'm assuming that Bindel either made a typo or misremembered the year. And yeah, the article's pretty silly. It says that some trans people are still depressed and suicidal even after their surgery, which indicates that GRS is not some magical procedure that will solve every problem a trans person could have.

To which I reply: "Well, yeah." The post-transition women I've talked to about it have said that, in the end, transition didn't exactly make them feel happy; it just made them feel relieved. They felt that this thing that had bugged them all their life was now gone, and they could (finally!) get on with being themselves. It didn't mean that their lives were suddenly full of rainbows and kittens—far from it, actually, as they'd had to go through hell in many different ways to get where they were, and still carried their scars with them. And, of course, still face enormous amounts of prejudice, of which this article is emblematic, which can make life way rougher than it needs to be. This just seems like common sense to me, but I guess it isn't.

This, by the way, is one of the things that bugs me about the pathologization of transness: It gives people the idea that being trans is a "disease" that transition is supposed to "cure", and so, when transition doesn't result in the person being happy and healthy and "normal", people like Julie Bindel can conclude that it "doesn't work". Tell you what, Ms. Bindel and the various medical establishments of the world: why don't you leave it up to trans people themselves to decide whether it "works" or not? They're the ones who would actually know, after all!

All right, back to the fisking:
Apart from Thailand, the country with the highest number of sex-change operations is Iran where, homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death.
Yes, Iran's homophobia is terrible and deeply, deeply fucked up, and I'm sure that some people feel pressured to transition when they otherwise wouldn't (more on that in a bit). What does that have to do with trans people who enthusiastically decide for themselves what they want to do with their lives and bodies?
When sex-change surgery is performed on gay men, they become, in the eyes of the gender defenders, heterosexual women. Transsexual surgery becomes modern-day aversion therapy for gays and lesbians.
Um, wow. Aside from her referring to trans women as "gay men" (I'm having Blanchard & Bailey flashbacks here), what exasperates me about this part is the idea that GRS somehow leads to social acceptance for trans women. That ain't how it works. If a trans woman doesn't "pass", then not only will she most likely never be fully socially accepted as a woman, but she'll be forever seen as a weirdo, a freak, an evil deviant, etc. As much as things currently suck for lots of marginalized people of all stripes, in Western countries most of them at least don't face the extraordinarily high rate of violence, rape, and murder on the basis of their identities that trans people do. So yeah, I don't really think that it would even occur to most cis gay people to transition in order to gain social acceptance (though, as we'll see, it's not impossible).
Indeed, transsexuals, along with those seeking IVF and cosmetic surgery, are using the NHS for the pursuit of happiness not health.
So, what, you don't think that removing a major cause of mental distress is a health issue? Oh, right, you think that it "doesn't work" because it's not a magical silver bullet that Fixes Everything.
Treatment is brutal and the results far from perfect.
I like how she chooses the word "brutal" to make it sound like abuse or something. I won't lie, I'm not looking forward to the pain that will go with hair removal (yeah, I'm pre-everything) and surgery, but even the "far from perfect" results will be totally worth the pain as far as I'm concerned. Which is what really matters, seeing as how it's, y'know, my body and all. Bindel's just concern trolling here.
Recent legislation (the Gender Recognition Act, which allows people to change sex and be issued with a new birth certificate) will have a profoundly negative effect on the human rights of women and children.
Which rights? How so? I certainly see how it may have a profoundly negative effect on Bindel's right to be a bigot, but I'm not sure how the human rights of women and children will be diminished by expanding rights for trans people (who, btw, count among their numbers women and children).
Since 2004, it has been possible for those diagnosed with GD to be assigned the sex of their choice, providing that the person has lived as the opposite sex for two years, has no plans to change back again and can provide evidence of the above. It is not necessary to have undergone hormone treatment or surgery. 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".

I am so sick of this godsdamn frakking argument that I want to punch a hole in the universe. How many times has this exact same bullshit come up in regards to bathrooms and festivals and stuff? I lost count years ago.

Look: If a rapist wants to rape, he'll just do it. He won't go to the trouble of changing his full-time gender presentation, staying that way for two years, promising he'll never go back, and then jumping through all the legal hoops necessary to get his gender legally changed.

Rapists don't care about following the law. If they did, they wouldn't be rapists. What will it take to get this through people's skulls?


Okay, moving on.

She quotes a widely-used definition of the umbrella term "transgender", then makes the following claim:
According to this definition, a girl who plays football is trans-sexual.
...Head, I'd like to introduce you to my friend Desk. Desk, this is Head.

Whether or not the given definition of "transgender" is problematic is beside the point, because one can be a transgender person without being a transsexual person! Hello! This is like hearing someone say that motor vehicles have wheels, and then going, "Well, by that definition, my scooter is an SUV!" Is she even trying with this?
A number of transsexuals are beginning to admit that opting for surgery ruined their lives.
Of course, she provides no hint as to what this number could actually be. Just "a number".
"I was a messed-up young gay man," says Claudia McClean, a male-to-female transsexual who opted for surgery 20 years ago. "If I had been offered an alternative to a sex change, I would have jumped at the chance, but as soon as I told the psychiatrist I felt trapped in the wrong body, or some such cliché, he was writing out a referral to the surgeon."
Okay, yeah, this is what I was talking about before—sometimes, some people do feel pressured into transition for reasons not their own. Of course that's wrong, and I'm not saying otherwise; nor, I'm certain, would anyone on Shakesville. And my heart breaks for those people; it really does.

But what Bindel is doing here is extrapolating from a few cases a conclusion meant to apply to all people who transition, anywhere, ever. And thus she concludes that "Transition made some people who didn't want it unhappy" is a good reason to deny rights to people who do want to transition, without regard for the evident reality any (isolated) case of a doctor recklessly encouraging surgery is an issue of medical malpractice.

Don't get me wrong: I do not, for a second, want to deny or downplay Claudia McClean's experience here. It shows just how fucked up this heteronormative binary bullshit is. But it's a problem with the heteronormative binary bullshit, to which some doctors can and do subscribe, too, not a problem with the fact that trans people exist! There's a difference! And trans people are more aware of said bullshit, and what it means to transgress it, than cis people could ever be!

Blergh. Onward:
Transsexualism is becoming so normalised

Ahaha! I'd snark about this phrase, but I don't think I could make it look any more ridiculous than it already is! LOL!!

Ahem. Anyway:
Transsexualism is becoming so normalised that increasing numbers of children are being referred to clinics by their parents. Recently, an 18-month-old baby in Denmark was diagnosed as suffering from GD. Last summer, a primary school headteacher held an assembly to explain that a nine-year-old boy would return as a girl.
Really? Awesome. Okay, I do wonder on what basis they arrived at the 18-month-old diagnosis, but dang would I have loved to have this kind of acceptance and support available when I was a kid.
Although the minimum age for sex-change surgery is 18, puberty-blocking hormones can be prescribed to those as young as 16, and transsexual rights lobbyists want that age to be reduced to 13.
Damn straight we do. If I could have skipped male puberty, I'd have a much better chance of getting the body I want now. I want trans kids to have that chance!
James Bellringer is a surgeon at Charing Cross Hospital, which has the largest gender identity clinic in the UK. He believes that children should be allowed to self-diagnose as GD. "It is not the doctors saying, ‘You are a transsexual, let's get you on hormones,' it is the children saying, ‘I don't like my breasts, I feel like a girl'."
(Dr?) Bellringer has it right. It's not about what doctors (or Julie Bindel) want for trans people; it's about what trans people want for themselves.
There is, however, a dispute within the medical profession about whether puberty-blockers should be prescribed. Some doctors say that children need to experience puberty to know whether they are misplaced in their bodies.
Oh, horse-puckey. I mean, I'm not going to suggest that that can't be true for some trans people, but, frankly, the entire "you've got to have [some baseline experience] to know for sure" argument smacks strongly of the now-unfashionable but once-ubiquitous assertion that gay people couldn't be certain of their orientation unless they'd had sex with someone of the opposite sex. To insist that it's an across-the-board requirement for all trans children to have their bodies ravaged by the wrong hormones is, honestly, pretty cruel.

Which makes Bindel's next statement just gob-smacking:
I would describe preventing puberty as a modern form of child abuse.
In a transphobe's world, it's child abuse to prevent children from developing in ways they don't want to, and it's not child abuse to force them to, because the most important thing—far more important than, say, children being happy—is that everybody lives exactly according to the body they're born with. Whatever happened to that neat little phrase about biology not determining destiny? Hasn't that been, like, a major rallying cry for feminists for as long as it has existed? Why doesn't Julie Bindel believe in it?
Two-thirds of those claiming to be, or diagnosed as, transsexual during childhood become lesbian or gay in later life.
Uhh... you do know it's possible to be both, right? Right?
A male-to-female transsexual serving a prison sentence for manslaughter and rape won the right to be relocated to a women's jail. Her lawyers argued that her rights were being violated by being unable to live in her role as a woman in a men's jail. Large numbers of female prisoners have experienced childhood abuse and rape and will fail to appreciate the reasons behind a biological man living among them, particularly one who still has the penis with which he raped a woman.
Oh look, it's the "trans woman as stealth rapist" meme again. This time it's different, because this woman got put in jail partly because she did rape someone, and so I can absolutely see how it would be a scary thing for rape survivors to be around her. But then, why don't they put cis women who are sex criminals in men's jails? Answer that, and you'll have your answer to why this woman got moved to a women's jail. (Related reading.)

So what, in Bindel's mind, makes a trans woman more of a threat? Well, the penis, of course. Y'know, I'm glad she came right out and said that, because that's really what a lot of this comes down to. It's why a lot of people who argue that trans women could be rapists in disguise are actually pretty okay with the idea of trans men in women's bathrooms, and it's why a "women-only" festival that explicitly excludes trans women welcomes pre-op or non-op trans men: It's literally penises that they're afraid of. And I mean, I can kind of understand: As a rape survivor myself, I know that, yeah, penises can be pretty scary. I get it. I do. But what Bindel is suggesting here is that trans women should be subjected to near-certain rape and violence in men's jails solely because they have penises. Which is not only kind of monstrous but also rape culture perpetuating.
There is a handful of radicals in the world today who have dared to challenge the diagnosis of transsexualism.
LMAO again! So anti-trans people are just "a handful of radicals"? If this wasn't a Julie Bindel article, I'd start wondering if it was some kind of clever parody! (That is, unless she's talking about the folks who challenge the pathologization of transness. I doubt that very much, though.)

Oh yeah, and they've dared to challenge it! Because it's totes a minority position! Because it's not like Western civ hasn't, with vanishingly few exceptions, hated trans and gender-variant people for its entire fucking history!
Those who do are called "transphobic"
Hey, if the shoe fits...
There is a form of cultural relativism at play here. Defenders of female genital mutilation or forced marriage often use the argument that such practices can be justified within certain communities (i.e. non-Western cultures), despite the fact that they serve to dehumanise women, because it is the "truth" of that particular community.
And that is horrible, but what's it got to do with trans people? Seriously, it's like she's just throwing things against the wall and seeing if they stick now.
A police officer who, during the course of his duty, was unfairly accused by transsexuals of "transphobia" was driven to a breakdown by their vicious campaign. An eminent medical ethicist who had dared to defend a fellow professional who had questioned the diagnosis of GD from a scientific point of view almost lost his career and reputation. And several women from feminist organisations have been bullied and vilified for challenging the "right" of male-to-female transsexuals to work in women-only organisations.
Meanwhile, trans women continue to be beaten, raped, murdered, fired from their jobs, kicked out of their houses, prevented from using public bathrooms, and systematically denied whatever resources are otherwise available to women for abuse recovery and the like, all just because they're trans—but never mind that! We're hurting the poor cis bigots' feelings! And their reputations! How dare we threaten their reputations by exposing them for the bigots they are?
With the normalisation of transsexual surgery comes an acceptance of other forms of surgery to correct a mental disorder. In 2000, Russell Reid, a psychiatrist who has diagnosed hundreds of people with GD, was involved in controversy over the condition known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), where sufferers can experience a desperate urge to rid themselves of a limb. Reid referred two BDD patients to a surgeon for leg amputations.
So what's wrong with that, if it's what they want? Y'know, if I didn't know better, I'd think Julie Bindel was new to this whole feminism thing. Don't we all agree that people have the right to do what they want with their own bodies?
We live in a society that, on the whole, respects the human rights of others.
LMAO—okay, that one's more of a sob, really, but still.
Accepting a situation where the surgeon's knife and lifelong hormonal treatment are replacing the acceptance of difference is a scandal.
Except that’s not what’s actually happening. Also, I happen to think that misusing feminist theory to try to prevent women from getting help they need is kind of a scandal, itself.
Sex-change surgery is unnecessary mutilation.
See, it's mutilation! Mutilation is bad! And trans people mutilate themselves; ergo, trans people are bad! And not only that—it's unnecessary, meaning our tax money (in countries with socialized healthcare, anyway) is getting spent on unnecessary things, like helping a bunch of freaky freak freaks!
Using human rights laws to normalise trans-sexualism has resulted in a backward step in the feminist campaign for gender equality.
Because, y'know, the feminist campaign for gender equality is totes about forcing people to be something they're not based on their biology.

I could end this by saying something about the dangers of treating theory as dogma, but I've read enough bigotry, and analysis of such, to know that that's not all that's going on here. As we can all see, there simply is no logical connection between the few valid points Bindel makes and her rejection of transness as a whole, and that's because it's not really about the theory at all. It's about Julie Bindel. It's about the fact that trans people weird her out and scare her, and challenge her worldview in ways she's not prepared to face, and so she wants to just make us all go away.

Well, we're not going away. We're going to continue fighting for the rights we need, and the treatment we need. Julie Bindel and her ilk are just gonna have to deal.

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