Sat Dec 6th, 2008 at 11:01:52 AM EST
Note 1 : this review is written primarily as a first response for the TG community. I appreciate it is of little more than marginal interest to ET regulars and I apologise for taking up ET space. I just don't have anywhere else to publish.
Note 2 : I will try to present my notes in the order they were taken, athough some ordering will aid clarity. I will footnote my personal comments to avoid distractions.
This debate was a sort-of joint venture between MMU (Manchester Metropolitan University : School of law) and PfC (Press for Change -an alleged transgender advocacy group) and chaired by Prof. Stephen Whittle who is head of PfC.
Principal speakers were Susan Stryker, a prominent Transgender academic and Julie Bindel, a transphobic Marxist essentialist journalist. It should be noted that SS was just 6 hours off flight from San Francisco and claimed 3 hours sleep in the previous 36. I suspected she faded a bit towards the end of the debate.
Introduction by SW
He initially excuses PfC's silence over the recent Stonewall nomination by saying that PfC work by making friends and not by identifying enemies (1). Surprisingly he does crticise Bindel and asking about how feminism relates to transexuality.
First argument by Susan Stryker
She talks about the "relationship" between feminism and transexuality dates from the 60s and, although it has been a negative one, she believes that the tension doesn't need to exist. There isn't one true feminism practice, because feminism isn't what you do, it's what you are.
thus when anti-TG feminists claim the transgendered don't have a background of experience of being a woman, of violence against women she would argue that these are not a sufficient definition of feminism. Feminism is about more that being defined as a victum.
The question then becomes "Is feminism about the 'woman' or the 'gender system' ?"
Equally she refuses to address the surgery question. That's the "and when did you stop beating your wife ?" question in that it frames the answers. It is comparable to asking in the abortion debate "does abortion cause harm?". If yes, then ban them. It's an inapproropriate way of dealing with the issue.
But who gives other people the moral authority to define her life ? She refuses to allow anyone else to negotiate her right to occupy her body as she wishes. Equally, who gets to define feminism ? To quote JB "It's not me, it's you" SS says the subject here is surely about how to frame the issue so as not to perpetuate violence against transgender women.
She then quoted JB about transgenderism being the invention of 50s psychiatrists and schools her about reality. She also pointed out that feminists shouldn't blame TGs for reactionary attitudes of psychiatrists as that's just blaming the victim.
Beyond that tho' she claims JB is factually wrong and ideologically driven and is taking the idea that she herself might have been diagnosed as TG and then projecting her own sense of horror of something she wouldn't have wanted. From that JB assumes that if TG people allow that to be done to us then we must have been duped in some way. In short JB refuses to engage with the idea that others have different motives from her own and counsels she should guard against moralising, othering and otherwise using judgemental language about those different from her. It would be better if she took these differences as a cue to learn more about the world than simply condemning.
First argument by Julie Bindel
Actually admits causing offence to "some" members of the trans community, but says that in response we have been far more offensive and vitriolic than any other group she has offended. (2)
To her, feminism is about the end of gender and the power invested in it and added that her own brand of concern is only about sexual violence and the power inherent . Not interested in equal pay or equality issues.
She briefly mentioned women-only spaces and the issue of Michigan Womyn's Music festival. She admitted she understood and supported these as emblemetic issues, but cos she personally wouldn't go if she was paid to, it doesn't bother her either way.
Admitted that her infamous "Gender Benders beware" article " was written in rage about the Kimberley Nixon/Vancouver Rape crisis centre controversy. To her KN was a destroyer of a women's anti violence support group and was angry at it.
So when she talks about TG epople and whether they are real women, she argues that she doesn't know what it is to be a real "woman" as to her, "woman" is a social contruct to service the needs of men. In her view therefore, as she doesn't do that, she herself is transgendered. As far as she understands, TGs do not see gender as an issue of power, and thus invalidate ourselves (or something).
Indeed, in referring back to her article of disavowal, what she was saying is that she wasn't asked if the LGBTQ etc shared an agenda. Taking it further she really doesn't think that we do. Lesbians and gay men, as she sees, have no common battles to fight. And, as she believes trans women have done nothing about violence against women, she doesn't think TGs have anything in common with her either.
Further, she says that the only thing that all women have in common is a fear of sexual violence. Brought up with the fear that they will be violated by men to keep them in their place.(3)
She denies advocating aversion therapy. Merely saying that "for some people" talking about things may be better than surgery.(4)
Still believes that lesbianism is a choice and denies the biology of sexuality and identity. TGs place too much reliance on gender, a concept that she says needs to be dismantled. For women gender is oppressive and not fun
Christine Burns (well respected TG) asked a very long question which microphone difficulties rendered inaudible.
SS reponds; Gender is more than a superstructure to power, it's a language to relate to other people. ther'es no outside to it and can't be dismantled. Even if you overthrew the inequalities of gender, you still have gender as the medium. There's power within as well as power imposed.
JB responds; Why transition gender if you need no hormones to transcend gender ?(5) TG is about agency rather than about essentialism or biology, yet gender is harmful to women constantly. She returns to the concept of violence/prejudice and believes it can be eliminated.
SW responds; He is of the opinion that LGBT people who clings to biological causations do so because they think if we can't help it then it might deflect violence from those hwo dispute our choices. However he adds the point that medical science, in its search for causative functions, may be predisposing what it acccepts as evidence based on cultural assumptions of difference.(6)
- FAG BREAK -
Debaters respond to each other's points
The Kimbereley Nixon/Vancouver affair was about a who is a real woman and whose problems are more important. If differing services are provided to differing kinds of women, then why should rape services be for all women except one kind. Equally, how can white women say an ex-male is triggering for raped women, yet claim to provide services for all women while ignoring that their colour is triggering of other oppressions that coloured women suffer. Misses the entire point of intersectionality.
She also commented that JB uses morally loaded terms when describing transwomen, thus KN is always and only a "destroyer" of women's services.
Also, depsite JB's assertions, transwomen do work to end sexual violence in the US, and suggested that their invisibiity here was more due to their exclusion and lack of welcome by feminists dominating the field.
Still complaining about the vilent vitriol on Facebook and believes that it's only about what she wrote 5 years ago and asked when forgiveness might be possible
The meeting then ended with a series of further questions which I lost patience with, especially as too many were coming up to agree with JB's assessment of the FB thread. I do not understand where this opinion arises except from the trolls who began to derail the discussion with ridiculous digressions and accusations.