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Transgenderism & Julie Bindel

by Helen Thu Jul 19th, 2007 at 06:45:31 AM EST

I attended a recording for an episode of the  Radio 4 series of debates called "Hecklers" last night. This episode was enititled "Sex change surgery is unnecessary mutilation" with the keynote address given by that implacable foe of transgenderism, Julie Bindel.

The substance of the debate was neither here nor there, this is not intended to be a transcript and the programme itself hasn't yet been broadcast. However, it was broken down into three sections, with light relief being brought when the second section concerned itself entirely with the various success or failure rates for the procedure claimed in various studies and the differing definitions thereof. I say light relief because, at the end of it, the chair made his only useful contribution of the night by asking Ms Bindel if the rates mattered in terms of her argument and she confessed that it didn't. So, one wonders, why spend time discussing it ? Unless, one suspects, the entire argument is similarly specious.

But, nevertheless, the evening did allow me to arrive at a tentative answer to something that has always intrigued me; why does Bindel bother about the transgendered ? What is it about us that so offends her that she is willing to expend effort in creating fact-free tirades against our very existence that undermine her credibility in her every other endeavour ? She has carved out a niche in reporting on women's issues and is a lecturer in Women's Studies. Indeed her career is entirely about having waded through the ghastly underside of women's exploitation; prostitution, slavery, pornography, rape, impisonment, mental health, child separation. Everything in her life is about revealing the rottenness of women's experience to the extent that one is not surprised that she has stated quite openly that she hates men. It's a ghastly job, but why does she then worry about something entirely outside of her concern ?

Last night I think I was able to discern an answer. Follow me through the whole mess.

JB referred serially to women's oppression, how she personally felt  about being oppressed as a person on account of her gender. She discussed thereality of the physical threat men/patriarchy place her under. For her the verye idea of womanhood is defined as living under the curse of patriarchy, of oppression, the very real threat of rape. Womanhood is equated to the victimhood that goes with this nightmare.

Well, whilst I'm sorry that she's not enjoying life, I have to ask what it has got to do with me ?

I got my clue when she was lambasting the "entitlements" that transgendered people can now aspire to, including being a rape-crisis counsellor. Now I confess to ambivalence on this one, I don't know and am not going to go there. But of all the issues you could mention, her alighting on this particular one was instructive. It isn't that TGs don't get raped, indeed men do as well, but to her the offensiveness came from a TG person not having endured the lieftime of victimhood that she feels is central to women's identity. So how could we empathise with this further indignity ?

As I say, I'm not going to discuss that issue, but it told me that what JB can't stand about TGs is that we claim to be women without having gone through the victimhood, the oppression, the sheer bloody-shittiness of being a woman that is central to her understanding of acquiring women's identity. How dare we ?

However, whilst I know most women moan about men from time to time, I don't see too many who have such a stark and miserable idea of their lives and their role in life. And you realise that JB is like Blair, Blunkett and Reid reacting to the idea of an islamist threat by running around like civilisation is under threat, enacting draconian legislation cos it makes them feel hard and salivating at the prospect of torturing the real truth out of these "suspects" just like Jack does. Meanwhile the rest of us go about our daily business getting annoyed about the silly restrictions on our movements and becoming increasingly blase about terrified politicians who can't understand why we're not terrified too.

And that's the point. Bindel is having a rotten life surrounding herself with all the miseries of the world. She can't imagine that most women don't see the world as she does, but she knows that the transgendered cannot possibly share her view and so, QED, we cannot possibly know what it is to be a woman. So why should we be allowed to try ? Why should society indulge us at the expense of the already oppressed 50% of the population ?

I feel sorry for her, but she has an influential voice on an infuential newspaper and that makes her wrong-headedness dangerous. Especially when JBs objections aren't about us at all. It's all about her; her and her rotten life.


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Interesting stuff.

I suppose in some degree I had bracketed Julie Bindel along with Melanie Phillips as someone whose fear had sort of overwhelmed them, as that was really the tone of her writing. But I never really understood what JB was so afraid/upset about.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Thu Jul 19th, 2007 at 07:37:52 AM EST
I think you've arrived at the correct conclusion Helen.  I have never seen JB, but I have certainly observed this type of reaction.  There are persons who hate all members of a particular group because of past or on-going acts of discrimination by member(s) of the group. Thank goodness it is not the norm and I have only encountered a few of these sad persons.  To think that their lives could be so much happier if they could learn to let go of the hate.

My wife and I once belonged to a small Latin American culture group whose membership was comprised of both Anglos and Latins.  At sporting events the group would often set up a booth and serve typical Mexican American foods.  One non-member,  an American of Mexican descent, expressed anger at the group stating that we were "exploiting his culture."  This man was known to hate persons of Anglo descent - who knows why. Something in his past had made such an impression that it affected his entire personality. It's easy to understand how some particular event or series of events could make a lasting impression, but it's less easily understood how the same set of circumstances affects individuals so differently.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Thu Jul 19th, 2007 at 10:36:04 AM EST
Really interesting analysis of her attitude. Must confess that I have never heard of JB before...

The question that pops into my head is does she only hate MtoF transgendered people or ALL transgendered people?  And does she not consider being born into the wrong gender and going through the whole transition process in a society like ours, fairly oppressive in it's own right?

Maybe submerging herself in the nasty undercurrents of exploitation and abuse has messed her head up, but I don't view women as automatically being victims purely on account of gender, oppressive though society can be.   And you are right to say that her influence is dangerous in terms of further oppressing and discriminating against a group that I think could do with far more support than it currently gets.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Thu Jul 19th, 2007 at 11:01:53 AM EST
It's hard to discern her attitude to ftm TGs as she ignores the issue entirely. Stephen Whittle (prominent ftm) was one of the panel and she was quite happy to discuss generalities with him, but never engaged on ftm specifics.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Jul 19th, 2007 at 01:45:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don´t recognize the name, but your insight makes perfect sense and describes many public figures that try to capitalize on their own mental blocks, as if it were a vocation.

why does she then worry about something entirely outside of her concern ?

Reminds me of the anti-choice people, who just cannot imagine opting out for themselves and letting the rest choose for themselves.


Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.

by metavision on Fri Jul 20th, 2007 at 03:43:47 PM EST
Good analogy.

As I say, it's our claim to some kind of womanhood that appals her: we can't be women and therefore shouldn't be allowed to try.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sat Jul 21st, 2007 at 10:36:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But of all the issues you could mention, her alighting on this particular one was instructive. It isn't that TGs don't get raped, indeed men do as well, but to her the offensiveness came from a TG person not having endured the lieftime of victimhood that she feels is central to women's identity

Who does she think she is to impose her viewpoint on a woman who has been raped?

I'm in no position to speak for women who have been raped.  But I'd like to think that if I ever needed to see a rape counsellor, they'd be more interested in hearing my experience than in fitting it into their own template.

by Sassafras on Fri Jul 20th, 2007 at 04:16:28 PM EST
There is a transgendered woman who works at my doctor's office.  I've always had a special affinity for her.  Don't know why.  But it certainly never occurred to me that she's unqualified to speak on women's issues.  Anyway, also I spend a good deal of time at a local rape victims' advocacy center that provides, among other things, counseling. There are men who work there, and if anything, most people are just glad they care.  It certainly doesn't effect their qualifications.  I can't imagine anyone taking issue with a transgendered person working there.  If anything, there seems to be a solidarity among all people who care about these issues.  And god knows that transgendered people are marginalized, oppressed and made to feel subhuman by a percentage of the public.  They may not know how it feels to be, say, me, but I'm sure we'd both have a seat at the pity party.  Oh, not to mention the number of victims of sex crimes who have serious gender issues of their own.  

While I do think that society tends to gloss over the remaining oppression of women, I think that saying an essential part of being women is experiencing sexism is uhm, rather buying into the oppressors' crap.  The whole point is that just because we are women does not mean we should have to suffer!  Maybe transgendered people cannot know what it feels like for non-transgendered women to be women, but it's not like 50% of the population is having some homogeneous life experience either.  Most women will suffer at some point and that can become a way of identifying with each other.  That doesn't mean women who have not suffered are not real women.  That's as sexist as anything.

Ok, can I open a can of worms?  Do you think it is fair to say that transgendered people's experiences are comparable to multi-racial peoples'?  I had a friend growing up whose mother was white and father was black.  Her black friends and family accused of her of not really being black, and visa versa.  In her mind, I think she identified more as a black girl, but she had life experiences that her black cousins could not have, and same with her white friends.  So she occupied this middle territory where she had insight into both worlds, but was not truly accepted as legitimate by either.  


"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Fri Jul 20th, 2007 at 04:46:56 PM EST
I think you are on to something.

Or rather, I think cathegories are important to peoples identities. Cathegories like "white", "black", "man", "woman". And transgressing the boundaries of those cathegories is a threat to the identity. Now, while most feminists I know cheer when lines are crossed, I know that there are those that do not.

There are a number of reasons:

The whole seperatist movement is somewhere dependent on the cathegories and can therefore have problems with transgendered people.

The biologistic feminists generally accepts gender as given by sex (while wanting to raise the status of females) and therefore can have problems with transgendered people.

Social-constructivist feminists can have problem with anyone choosing female gender of their own free will, without being programmed to it.

Queerfeminists can actually (though I think this is rare) also have problems with transgendered people or rather their argumentation. That transgendered people sometimes (or often) argue that they were a wo/man stuck in a wo/mans body is the problem, as it ties neetly into the model they are fighting with male and female being opposite and mutually exclusive cathegories. Even though it on the argument on the surface contradicts this, it reaffirms it on a basic level. All souls are gendered, though sometimes they end up wrong. Thanks to modern surgery it can be corrected.

Just to name a few groups and various possible issues with transgenderism. (If you have no idea what groups I am talking about, try wikipedia. It is probably faster.)

I do not know Julie Bindel, nor her work. Therefore I have no idea why she has problems with transgenderism, but I bet the cathegories has something to do with it.

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by A swedish kind of death on Fri Jul 20th, 2007 at 06:11:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
While I do think that society tends to gloss over the remaining oppression of women, I think that saying an essential part of being women is experiencing sexism is uhm, rather buying into the oppressors' crap.  The whole point is that just because we are women does not mean we should have to suffer!

But Bindel is not a progressive feminist really, her's is a very conservative form of women's politics called Essentialism (tho' she denies it)

(Essentialism is)..The idea that women and men are essentially fundamentally different and that the only way for women to find their own unique expression is to withdraw from male society as much as possible.

Now it is easy to criticise essentialism, its basic premise of what makes certain groups of people the way they are (for example, women, blacks, Jews), are the political-philosophical constructs of conservatism. The history of essentialist argument is one of oppressors telling the oppressed to accept their lot in life because "that's just the way it is."  By buying into the idea that women are the only non-aggressive, nurturing and life giving gender they were actually supporting patriarchal assumptions that kept women oppressed. Ironically, essentialism is becomes a specifically anti-feminist philosophy

Which is exactly what you're saying. This isn't new thinking at all, Germaine Greer has been saying much the same since the early 70s.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sat Jul 21st, 2007 at 11:05:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
From your description JB has some serious anger issues and needs professional help.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Fri Jul 20th, 2007 at 10:16:27 PM EST
Whenver I read her stuff I have serious anger issues.

I have no problem with people who make an effort to find out the issues and talk to that majority of transgendered who are happy and joyful. But she never engages with us, she has created a self-serving concept that we are culturally deluded homosexuals unable to come to terms with same sex attraction. I have no idea what she's talking about and that's the point really. Neither I, nor any other TG, recognise ourselves in how she describes us.

But she has interviewed a lot of unhappy TGs and maybe that's where she gets it from. But it seems odd to concentrate on the fialures, ignore the overwhelming proportion of successes and then slam all of us as unforgiveable trasgressors.It's her shoddy research that annoys. Being told stuff you know is untrue by somebody who hasn't got a flaming clue is patronising and insulting.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sat Jul 21st, 2007 at 11:11:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
When you first posted your diary I read it quickly and I really did not understand what it was all about. The second time, I think I found that this paragraph is the key to the whole thing
As I say, I'm not going to discuss that issue, but it told me that what JB can't stand about TGs is that we claim to be women without having gone through the victimhood, the oppression, the sheer bloody-shittiness of being a woman that is central to her understanding of acquiring women's identity. How dare we?
Sadly, there are too many groups of people that want to define themselves through victimhood. This is just one more example. As you say, not all women seem to define themselves as victims, but JB and her ideological allies would like to convince all women to see themselves that way.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jul 21st, 2007 at 11:42:57 AM EST


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