February 1st, 2010


On the current unpleasantness

I've had an exchange of letters with a prominent liberal journalist who thinks that the trans community should enter dialogue with Julie Bindel rather than engage in tactics which alienate her further. I would love to know whether he has ever said to her that maybe she should try not to be deliberately offensive - but I guess that members of the serious commentariat do not criticize each other like that. ( I am of course not a proper part of the commentariat because you have to be cis for that...)

So, anyway, I wrote him this letter.

Of course I respect your position, but I'd like to trespass on your time a little further to explain mine some more.

Like a number of other trans people, I have been having this particular argument for the last thirty years - I reviewed Janice Raymond's book The Transsexual Empire back when it first came out in 1979. In that time, I have lived the debate in my personal life - I have been verbally assaulted, excluded from women-only space to which I had been invited by friends and lovers, watched my women lovers be abused and threatened. Nonetheless, I have become someone regarded by a lot of feminists as a feminist scholar of worth. I have served as Deputy Chair of Liberty and was one of the founders of Feminists against Censorship.

I have tried to open personal discussion with Julie Bindel and she has always refused on the grounds that there is no talking to any of us. She holds all of us accountable for anything any trans person says or does. At the same time, she entirely erases our experience - she tends by the way to entirely erase the existence of trans men by talking as if they were not part of the conversation.

I specifically made to her the point that some of us have been engaging with her particular feminist critique of trans for almost as long as some of the community have been alive and she simply refused to discuss the issue. When Sarah Brown pointed out to her that her advocacy of 'talking cures' for trans was a mealy-mouthed advocacy of reparative therapy, Julie Bindel's response was to threaten to sue her for libel - not much respect for free speech there.

Christine Burns engaged in an extended dialogue and has now stated that she regards it as having been an utter waste of time in which Julie Bindel acted in less than perfect faith.

In a sense, it does not matter whether she is personally bigoted or cruel - the consequences of her politics, which are not hers alone and have a long history, have produced bigotry and cruelty on a regular basis.

As to the specific issue of her freedom of speech, there have been three trans demonstrations involving her. When she spoke against us at the BBC radio programme Hecklers, we went along and asked questions from the floor with most of which she refused to engage. People afterwards tried to interact with her in a friendly and non-confrontational manner; things she has subsequently written indicate that they wasted their time.

The demonstration at the Stonewall Awards was not against Julie as such, but against Stonewall primarily for consistently refusing to engage with the issues of the trans community, and most especially with that part of the community which identifies as lesbian or gay - a significant part these days. In that context, their considering honouring a well-known transphobe was salt in the wound - but it was a demonstration against Stonewall, not against Julie Bindel, as all film and other documentation will show.

The same applies to Friday night's demonstration - it was against QQT for giving a platform to a transphobe in a space that we regard as one of the few venues which is trans-friendly. We might have been placated had QQT allowed us to make a statement or asked one of us onto the platform, but this was not the case.

In the end, what you are arguing is that we are making a good argument in the wrong tone of voice. As I am sure you are aware, this is a standard trope of arguments about prejudice and is a classic derailment technique.

Seventy trans people THAT WE KNOW OF were murdered last year world wide; two of them, in London and Brighton, were people that were part of our extended community. Andrea Waddell was a college chum of friends of mine and Destiny was a friend of my own ex-flat-mate. We have reason to be angry and telling us not to be is telling vulnerable people to shut up.

I know you think of yourself as a defender of trans rights, but I would honestly suggest to you that one of the best ways you can do this is to listen to what we are saying rather than telling us what we ought to say.

He really is a cisplaining AllyFail twit, I fear.

Some thoughts on Biblical Texts and how they get used

I've put in my Glee piece for the TLS and the Guardian commissioned someone else to reply to the idiotic Bea Campbell in re. 'No Platform for Bindel', and so I can take a few minutes to talk about something else I have been obsessing with quietly over the past few weeks.

Someone rightly pointed out that right-wing Christianist fundie homophobes don't regard themselves as obliged to follow the purity codes of the Old Testament about mixed-textile clothing, or diet, and that this is because Paul says Christians are exempt from those codes. This does not explain why they still feel entitled to adopt Old Testament punishments, of course, so it is not quite the knock-down argument that was claimed; it would seem to me that if you are using the New Testament to govern your own behaviour, and the Old Testament to govern other people's, there is a fundamental inconsistency people should be asked to address.

(And in this context, since we are talking about Christians and Christianists, I think that's the appropriate vocabulary to use when referring to those books, just as I would try to make a distinction between the Jewish and Christian Bibles even when they are largely the same text, and be aware of the different canons of the various Christian churches. I grew up reading the Book of Tobit as part of my bible, having been reared Catholic, and am sometimes surprised when Protestant friends do not know what I am talking about if I refer to it.)

Meanwhile, Paul...Odd chap, I think we can agree on that, who created Christianity in large measure without having ever met Jesus. A man of his time, with conventional attitudes to slavery and women - and I have never understood why things he said that do not fit with the Gospels get taken so seriously as doctrine. He seems to have thought some very odd things - like that the tendency to bisexuality among Greeks and Romans was a madness caused by worshipping pagan gods. Does this mean he invented the concept of false consciousness? Probably not; it is doubtless somewhere in Plato.

He is, though, far more of a problem for people who believe in biblical inerrancy and fundamentalism than they generally acknowledge. When they need to justify homophobia and the general stigmatization of sexual sin, they have a knockdown quote from Paul to hand.
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God?

Now, those of us who are not Christians can simply ignore all that anyway, but believers have a problem, because they always ignore the later bits of that quite long shopping list. Revilers - Fundamentalists tend to have a nice line in horrible insults to those they disagree with; the claims by Pastor Ssempa in Uganda that all homosexuals are paedophiles obsessed with fisting and the eating of excrement being a case in point. Extortioners - I will just say three words of which the first is Tithes, and the second is Superchurches and the third is Televangelists. Covetous - well, all of the talk about fancy people and Hollywood elites and East Coast liberals that you hear from these people does seem to indicate a certain discontent with being poor and pious, and their preaching of the gospel of success, the idea that making money in the free market is a Christian duty, does seem to raise one of Paul's deadly sins to the status of a cardinal virtue.

And that is setting aside the question of how many Christianists have a problem with booze, even if they are currently dry drunks.

Paul equates all of the things he regards as sins as being equivalent problems - and if they truely believed in biblical inerrancy, you would expect them to do likewise.

Yet somehow homosexuality, to which many of them are apparently not inclined, is seen by them as a bigger sin than those spiritual sins to which they seem addicted. Someone needs to work out the origin of that particular idea - Jusitinian thought sodomy caused earthquakes and Peter Damian got the mediaeval churh to be hotter on it than had been the case previously - but it is clearly not in Paul, let alone in the gospels, where it is one of the things Jesus never bothers to mention.

Religion becomes toxic, as do other ideologies like radical feminism, when they become a license for hating other people, and treating them as less than human.

I stopped being a Christian decades ago. But some of what I learned as a child has resonance for me still - love thy neighbour as thyself, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, let him who is without sin cast the first stone. The Beatitudes. The Parable of the pharisee and the publican.

Jesus is a man - or perhaps a literary construct, but my money is on his having really existed - who deserves rescuing from his worshippers. Including, let us be clear, Paul, fine as some of his writings are.


Oh, and because I've had this argument before with eg autopope, one of the major reasons why I think that there was a historical Jesus is that no one in the succeeding centuries ever raised the possibility that there was not. The Jewish controversialists argued that he was the bastard of a legionaire, rather than that he never existed. Roman historians like Tacitus and buraucrats like Pliny took it for granted that he was real - Pliny in the context of an extended report to the emperor about these pesky cultists. And it is not as if a culture in which one of the ultimate punishments was having your life and work struck from the records post execution as if you had never existed - Augustus did this to a couple of poets - was incapable of claiming someone had not existed even if they had, let alone if they genuinely had not.

But saying that there was a historical Jesus is not saying that he was God any more than saying that there was a historical Mohammed is saying that he was the Final Prophet of God.

In a way, simply denying their existence is a cheap way of terminating conversations with believers, which may well be a good idea but not what I want to do.

My sentence is for open war. Of Wiles/ more unexpert I boast not.

One should always be as nice as possible when one is about to be as unpleasant as necessary, so I will start this post with a link here to a fine piece of writing by Beatrix Campbell in which she talks about coming out and what it cost her, and why she is hostile to people who stay in the closet. It's a good piece, on the whole.

Which is why I find it almost staggering that someone who can write so movingly about her own predicament as a young married woman who discovered that she was a lesbian can be so utterly unforgiving and brutally hostile to trans women and men who went through processes of self-discovery at least as gruelling.

One of the standard charges back in the 70s of people on the Left who objected to interest in feminism and LGBT rights was that it would inevitably lead to solipsism, to people obsessing about their own experiences and losing track of other people's humanity. As always with what that sort of Stalinoid thug says, this was usually a monstrous lie, but on occasion touched on a grain of truth. There is no sorrow like unto the sorrow of Beatrix Campbell and certainly not the sorrow of trans people.

There is something wrong with Beatrix Campbell and Julie Bindel's capacity for empathy - Shaw says in Saint Joan something along the lines of 'Must a saint burn in every generation for the sake of those who have no imagination' and there was a man who knew his comrades and sisters.

I am amazed that Campbell has been adopted as a candidate by the Green party after the utter debacle of her involvement with the satanic panic of the 90s. This is a woman who used her access to the press to claim that there was a vast conspiracy to suppress evidence of satanic abuse and criticized all those who disagreed for 'an inability to imagine that 'satanic' practices actually happen, that 'organising rituals to penetrate any orifice available in troops of little children; to cut open rabbits or cats or people and drink their blood; to shit on silver trays and make the children eat it'

Generally, can we say that all of this throws a certain shadow on her judgement - the general conclusion was that there was no vast conspiracy, that in a few cases abusers used ritual trappings to cow their victims, that this was a problem that did not need radical solutions. Campbell argued, not unsympathetically, that we should err on the side of believing possible victims, especially children, but ignored the extent to which the children had been badgered into belief by her right-wing Christian allies on this one.

She let herself become a useful idiot for mad fundies that time, and now she is, on the subject of trans, lining up not only with her jolly little crack-em-up in the aisles standup comedian Bindel - her description, not mine - but with evil Christianist loonies. It's a sad fate for a former Marxist who once understood solidarity.

Which brings us back to Julie Bindel, who has taken a day off from moaning that we are mean in no-platforming her, to propose here a ban on advertisements for sexual services. Does she really not understand that the more prostitutes are unable to work from flats, the more they will be on the street, getting raped, killed and forced to have unprotected sex?

I do worry sometimes that JB really does know and does not care, that the deaths of actual prostitutes are just a necessary stage in the transitional movement towards the prohibition of whoring, just as driving trans people to misery and madness and suicide would be a necessary stage in the transition towards her vision of the regendered future. She seems to be hanging out a lot with my old chum Fiona McTaggart, who, when young, had a short infatuation with the Khmer Rouge, another group who thought you could build utopia on a pile of skulls

Am I being ill-tempered and intemperate? No, I have just got fucking fed up with being nice Roz.

Later and isn't it interesting that various people's attempts to recall the satanic panic in the comments on Campbell's anti-trans piece have been expunged? From Comment is Free But Clearly Not As Free As All That.

And this is what they want to do to all of us

A good piece here from the Independent, gakked from Sullivan, on the utter quackery of reparative therapy. It is not medicine at all - it is a mixture of crank theories and Christian prayer. And it is managing to fiddle funding from the NHS, which is scandalous.

People who think trans can be got out of people's system by a 'talking cure' will end up promoting this sort of thing, sooner or later no doubt backed up by electric shock aversion therapy and a reintroduction of lobotomy.