Roz Kaveney (rozk) wrote,
Roz Kaveney

I posted a response to Julie Bindel's statement here

It is hard to know where to begin. I did consider going through Julie Bindel's statement point by point, but I don't think that would be an especially productive use of our time and attention. However, some obvious points do arise.

1. Julie Bindel seems to be under the impression that her own oppression by homophobes and racists trumps the right of other people, themselves often the victims of violence, abuse, vilification and rape, to defend themselves against her. We might have hoped that Julie Bindel's own experience of oppression might have made it easier to understand the feelings of those who have also been oppressed, but such appears not to be the case.

2. She does not understand why many of us are angry with her, angry to the point of sometimes saying silly and abusive things. Let us be clear - this is a world in which you do not get to tell an entire community of people that they are living lives which are, in their entirety, a lie based on a delusion and have them like you for it.

The abusive language that she used in 2004 is one of the sources of that anger, it is true, and the fact that, under pressure, she has back-tracked from that abusive language is almost irrelevant to that anger. She has never really dealt with the issue of why she used such language in the first place. Defenders of human rights do not normally slip into the language of bar-room bigots, and, when they do, it is important that they sit down and understand how and why they did this.

Hurtful as that language is, it is not the major reason for the righteous anger of much of the trans community both with Bindel herself and with Stonewall for honouring her. That anger comes from the utter disrespect with which Julie Bindel feels it appropriate to discuss our lives; it also comes from the fact that she is advocating talking therapies for trans people in a way that almost entirely parallels the advocacy of talking therapies by the Christian right as a way of extirpating all LGBT people. If she does not understand that, as a lesbian, she is a turkey advocating Christmas for turkeys in an adjacent bit of the farmyard, then she is being obtuse; what she is doing is betraying not only the trans community but the entire LGBT community, and it is wrong to honour her for her other work when there is this colossal stain on her career.

3. It is disingenuous of Julie Bindel to argue that (factually incorrect and hurtful) discussion of whether she was a political lesbian was entirely out of order. Historically, much of the abuse of trans people has come from a particular school of radical feminism which also regarded a lesbianism based on political self-identification as being superior to a lesbianism based on innate personal drives. That discussion here was inappropriate, but there are reasons why some people were drawn to it.

4. One of those reasons is that Julie Bindel has taken from that school an entirely crude, and inconsistently thought through, dichotomy between innate biological drives and socially constructed mentalities. There are a number of problems with that set of ideas, one of them being the simple point that, since everything human beings do is a product of their evolved biology, social interactions included, you cannot draw a simple line between the biological and the social. Aspects of brain/mind architecture like the construction of the narrative self over time are simultaneously biological (in that they happen in the wet-ware of the brain, and socially constructed in that different cultures appear to construe the self in somewhat different ways.

There is a good case that in some real sense both gender identification and sexual object choice are regularly occurring human variations - both appear across societies and cultures, and cultures develop mechanisms for allowing or repressing both. No society has ever managed to abolish either by social engineering, even when the favoured model of social engineering is torture and death. Many of us do not regard our identities as in any sense pathological or malfunctions, merely as human variations like red hair or left-handedness which our particular society happens to have a problem with.

Even were it the case, though, that variations of gender identification were solely and wholly the product of nurture and had no pre-existing biological cause, people would still have to live with them, just as they would have to were non-standard sexual preferences soley and wholly the product of nurture. Decades of experience show that, for most gender-variant people, having access to surgeries and hormone treatment and social acceptance of what people feel is their authentic identity is the way to go.

Julie Bindel's objections to that idea have primarily to do with the problems it poses for other areas of her thought about feminism, problems which are only problems IF you adopt the simplistic and un-nuanced model of biology and life in society which she advocates. We are supposed to suffer emotional misery in order to patch the holes in her reasoning.

Julie Bindel has, ironically, accused us of making her our whipping girl for society's affronts; if so, we are responding to her attempts to make us pawns.

5. She constantly brings up a couple of cases of individuals with regrets - and regards those cases as intrinsically more important than every one who has no regrets. Again, Right-Wing Christians are fond of trotting out former gays and relapsed lesbians as proof that their perception of homosexuality as a sickness is correct; does Julie Bindel not see that what she is doing is precisely parallel.

6. Julie Bindel constantly maintains that trans women and trans men all without serious exceptions lead lives of fierce conformity with percieved societal stereotypical norms, and yet even her own attacks on us refute that perception. If that were the case, none of us would want to say, work in rape crisis centres or be relaxed about gender-neutral toilets, and she would not have to tell us we shouldn't.

A significant proportion of trans people identify as queer in terms of their cultural positioning and homosexual in terms of their sexual attractions. This was always the case but for a while we tended to keep quiet about it in deference to the feelings of those people in the community who identify as straight and felt that we let the side down. Things change - and this is one of the reasons why we are so furious with Stonewall and so unprepared to continue to honour what ever deals were made by the straight-identified trans establishment and Stonewall back in the mists of the 90s.

If Julie Bindel were, as she claims, doing proper research on trans people, then she would be aware of this range of identification. If she is not so aware - or is aware and not mentioning it - then her research, and her journalistic ethics, are worthless.

7. In what universe is a community that with very few exceptions - I being in some small sense one - has no clout and no access to the media trying to censor Julie Bindel's right to free expression? The anti-trans sentiments espoused by her - and a number of other Guardian journalists down the years - have far more public play than considered arguments in our defense - I try to be out in my critical journalism when and as appropriate but have never been asked to provide a countering view.

And yet, without having the kind of access that Julie Bindel and Germaine Greer, say, have always had, we have nonetheless largely won the argument. In the 1980s, when I came out as lesbian, my sexual partners were vilified and I was often barred from clubs at the door - this does not happen so much any more. The common sense of people - and especially of people in the LGBT community - has prevailed in the face of the sorts of remarks of which Julie Bindel was guilty in 2004 - at least by 2004 she felt she had to apologize, however inadequately.

8. On a personal note, may I say that I take exception to Julie Bindel's assumption that she, and only she, is a human rights campaigner. I was first beaten up by fascists on a demonstration against the white supremacists in what was then Rhodesia and is now - hurrah! - Zimbabwe in 1966. I have been involved in feminism and gay rights since my student days - second wave feminist critiques of trans stuff were one of the reasons why I did not transition until my late 20s. My credentials include advising Virago as a reader, working on major feminist reference books like the Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English and spending several years as Deputy Chair of Liberty. I take no especial credit for any of this - some of it was also careerism and much of it was my simple duty - but how dare Julie Bindel assume that no trans person has any history as a progressive?

I should also have thought of adding the point that it is a strange model of censoring her views which has allowed her constantly to troll and post in a forum dedicated to opposing her.
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