Wednesday was, of course, the big Radio 4 debate programme which we leafletted, criticizing the BBC for giving Julie Bindel a platform for what is, under all the crocodile tears, essentially hate speech against trans people.
Bindel is an unreconstructed second generation radical feminist who writes for the Guardian and teaches women’s studies. She was proposing the motion that ‘Sex change surgery is unnecessary mutilation’ though she rapidly moved to proposing that it should be banned – I suspect that she had changed her brief from what she had agreed with the BBC.
The idea of the programme Hecklers is that Bindel speaks for half an hour, actually more like 50 minutes but can be interrupted at any point by four people on the platform with her. These were Stephen Whittle, Michelle Bridgman, Kevin Wylie and Peter Tatchell. After that, we got to make points from the floor – the audience was very clearly mostly trans people and their allies, though there were a scattering of Bindel-fanciers too.
The line Bindel took – and which she propounded as a new – Ha! – insight into trans issues – was that the patriarchy was trying to shoe-horn people who didn’t fit into traditional gender roles in their original gender into stereotypes of the other one. (This really is not an original critique – it is the one Germaine Greer made in 1970 and the one Janice Raymond made in 1979)
She claimed that because the various overview studies disagreed on outcomes, she could choose the one which seemed to support her view – not taken by even the study she chose to cite – that there were a lot of unhappy post-operative people out there. (A point which needed to be made and wasn’t made quite explicitly enough by Stephen Whittle is that if there are two scientific studies, you choose the one with the best methodology, not the one that happens to suit you. And that you don’t then push your own intuitive guess as to what the gaps in the methodology of the less good study might mean as if they were solid evidence.)
She claimed to be speaking for the silenced – those of us who were trans and there were all privileged middle-class people with careers. (Stephen and Michelle pointed out what nonsense this was – if a lot of transpeople have careers and some success in them, it is because we have had to work damn hard in the face of bigotry and oppression.)
She made the analogy with anorexia and people who want limbs amputated and argued that we should not be pandered to. (The amputation thing is one that crops up from time to time and it is odd to hear it from a feminist. The obvious distinction is that we don’t want to have no genitals and secondary sexual characteristics – we want to have other ones, preferably in full working order. We are not Barbie and Ken.)
It was noticeable how little she addressed transmen or even mentioned them – she had to deal with Stephen but accused him of stereotypical masculinity and then moved on. The most stereotyped thing that happened all evening was the difficulty Michelle had in getting a word in edgeways.
She also insisted that gender was either biological or socially constructed, and that she believed that it was socially construced, by the patriarchy, in order to oppress women. (It is amazing that post-modern thought and cognitive science can so utterly have passed someone by. We know, pretty reliably, that a number of aspects of human identity are both biologically determined – we can spot the neurons firing – and socially influenced. The construction of the narrative self is a fairly good example of this – part of being human is that we construct a fabulation of who we are, but culture influences the terms in which we do this. The same applies to some degree to manifestations of theory of mind. It is perfectly possible that that aspect of sense of self which we call gender identity is another such – as so often Bindel assumes she is entitled to an either-or binary where none exists.)
I spoke from the floor and accused her compassion of being crocodile tears. Feminists of her cultish stripe have for years singled out precisely those transpeople who challenge gender normative behaviour – lesbian-identified transwomen for example- for vindictive petty persecution. Asked to give an example, I cited the case of a friend (who is stealth and has asked not to be named) who was sacked as Gay News photographer because a number of women’s groups would not appear in the listings while she worked there.
A lof of people made good and valid points – I didn’t take notes on all of them.
What was notable and evidence that Julie Bindel is smarter than some of her fellow true-believers is that she set out to be charming in the post-show drinks party to the variety of transfolk who were equally charming to her. I decided to be a bitter old bitch and ignore her, because someone had to, and I really don’t want to be nice any more.
Afterwards, a lot of people went for pizza/pasta.