Monday 20 October 2008

Stonewall and Julie Bindel

So I wrote to Ben Summerskill at Stonewall this morning, adding my voice to the protests against Julie Bindel's nomination for the Journalist of the Year award. Text as follows:

Dear Mr Summerskill,

You’re probably sick to death of the finer points of this business by now, but I would like to add my voice to the protests at the Bindel nomination.

I believe that, by Stonewall’s own definition, Julie Bindel is transphobic. Nothing she has said since the notorious Guardian piece in 2004 has indicated that she has changed her opinion that transwomen are really men.

I understand that you are an LGB organisation rather than LGBT. But as a transwoman and a lesbian, I feel betrayed by this nomination. I urge you to withdraw it, however late the stage in the proceedings.

Yours faithfully,

....and then we had a chat on the phone. He said that, as the nomination had been made by Stonewall supporters, it would be impossible for the organisation itself to withdraw it. I suggested that Stonewall make some form of statement deprecating Julie Bindel's stated position on transsexuals, which ticks several of the boxes on Stonewall's own checklist of "what is transphobia?". Which includes these items:

• the belief that trans women are not “real women” because they have been raised and socialised as men
• the belief that trans men are not “real men” because they do not have, or were not born with a penis
• the belief that transsexual people are actually gay people in denial
• the assumption that transgender people are “sick” or that they are psychologically unstable
• when a transgender person is excluded from services, activities, discussions or decisions because it is felt that that person doesn’t “fit in”
• the refusal to recognise or acknowledge the true gender of a trans person and the continual insistence to refer to them by their former name

Meanwhile, Christine Burns, formerly of Press For Change, had lunch with Bindel and recorded the conversation. Some key points:

Julie acknowledged that "some of the things I said in the 2004 column were hateful and offensive and could actually incite offensive behaviour towards transsexual people"

(no fooling; I've been at the receiving end of precisely that sort of behaviour. The language used by Bindel in this article could just as easily have come from the hairy-arsed seafarers I was getting grief from at the same time... )

However, she said "I absolutely stand by the core premise which was my anger at a particular member of the community who almost brought a rape crisis centre to its knees; I have not changed my position on that case at all".

(...she refers to the refusal of Vancouver Rape Relief to employ Kimberley Nixon, a transsexual woman who had herself been the victim of domestic violence, as a counsellor. I want to examine this business at greater length. Later)

When Christine asked, "Am I a woman, for instance?" she replied "You have a right to self-determination. ....what do you mean by that? What makes you a woman? ...and part of that has to be the socialisation that we experience when we grow up girls in girls' bodies as they're growing up."

So that's 'no' ,then.

On what Julie characterises as the "sex change industry" "....traditional psychiatrists and medical practitioners see men and women as odd or suffering from a syndrome if they behave outside their gender norms, and I do think that practice continues in diagnosing people as transsexual", Christine quoted Stuart Lorimer, consultant shrink at Charing Cross, who said that, on this matter, Julie was "spectacularly ill-informed".

"There's a difference between being spectacularly ill-informed and having a different opinion", said Julie.

Now, I've been to Charing Cross. I've seen several shrinks there, including Stuart Lorimer. I agree with him, and not because I've got Stockholm Syndrome but because he is intelligent and questioning and knowledgeable. Julie is consistently missing the point about transsexuals: it's not about gender roles, it's about being the sex we identify as. She misrepresents what actually happens in gender clinics. Given that this is supposedly her specialist subject, in my book I'd call that pretty spectacularly ill-informed.

Julie says she wants to "continue a debate about the so-called condition and about surgery as a solution to the diagnosis of transsexualism".

Well, yes, of course she does, because it's column inches for her, but why indulge her? -and is it a debate anyway? In these four years, she hasn't really changed her position, which is based on ideology, always a bad starting point for a discussion on medical matters. Why should we be constantly expected to explain ourselves to her, when she doesn't actually listen? -why does she want to explain us to ourselves or to deny us treatment (beyond 'talking therapies'), when she doesn't have the courtesy either to study the subject properly or to think outside her own box?

Hopefully, Julie and her moth-eaten and simplistic theories will slide into the dustbin of history. Along, perhaps, with Stonewall, who don't seem to want to or be able to shift on this one.


  1. Fancy a trip to the V&A on Nov 6th Dru? We could pop in an see the Swarm Chandelier ( before picketing the place? A more cultured demonstration entirely I'd say?

    There's a bed at my place on the way home. Or, hey, if things drag on a bit, and we want to stay over in town, we could just get ourselves arrested! ;-)

    (I am of course, officer, only kidding...)

  2. Just a small point Dru. I moved on from Press for Change in November 2007. Neither I nor the "Just Plain Sense" Podcast channel are associated in any way.

  3. It's tempting, Jo; I'll try to manage it. I managed to be v cultured on the Great Poll Tax Demo: we were at the very back of the march and it was moving so slowly that we lost patience and went to the Tate instead. Didn't even know there had been riots until we stopped at a pub in Hungerford on the way home and someone said, "Were you there....?"

    Thanks for the input, Christine. I've amended the description duly.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. my two cents, for what its worth

    When Christine asked, "Am I a woman, for instance?" she replied "You have a right to self-determination. ....what do you mean by that? What makes you a woman? ...and part of that has to be the socialisation that we experience when we grow up girls in girls' bodies as they're growing up."

    I actually agree with the theory behind this statement .. but Julie does not 'follow through' on it.

    I've noticed a few things during my transition

    Some girls take the time to "re-socialize" themselves as women .. yes, it is possible to 'undo' the male socialization (but it takes work .. I am still learning)

    but sadly, most do not, they are too focussed on all the other stuff.

    And IMHO this is where they make a critical error.

    They trade out the wardrobe, change their name, get various surgeries, but to their amazement are still seen as "men in a dress", as Julie points out.

    I posture that this is what she's likely been exposed to and based a lot of her opinions in her 2004 article from this observation.

    For those that do take the time and effort to re-socialize themselves do have a smoother time of it in the long run

    Again, this is my opinion, based upon observations that I have made over the years.

  6. I'm not sure what you mean by "follow through", Anonymous. She is saying that you not only need female socialisation as a child, but also female puberty. Do you agree with that?
    At the time of the article, I know that she'd met one transsexual woman, who works in a feminist bookshop in the North of England. I know this because she cited her on Technodyke to bolster her own position. And was then strongly repudiated by this woman who had been alerted to her having done so.

    I do not know that at that time she had met any other transsexual women.

    Having read up a bit about Kimberley Nixon, I don't think "man in a dress" is a fair and honest description of her.

    Maybe Julie had been hanging out at the Way Out Club, but I wouldn't know, because I wasn't hanging out there either. The (admittedly few) trans women I know in real life are just trying to get on with things.

    Still, I agree about socialisation. I continue to work on it, though I suspect that I would have been an outsider even if I'd been brought up as a girl. That happens too.

  7. Ah, the luxury of anonymity. Based on my observations [lowers spectacles professorily onto tip of nose and peers quasi-kindly around the table] it is often the self-styled 'stealthy' who abuse the privilege of being able to comment in someone else's diary by opining on the very trans matters that they would not dare utter a word on in general company. And expect due deference from the trans-sisters and -brothers to whom they feel themselves superior.

    Naturally, popping up in cloak and dagger mode here, 'anonymous' may be well meaning. Or maybe not.

  8. Thats hilarious. Calls me out for posting up as 'anonymous', yet all we can glean from your profile is that you name may (or may not be) suzanne ..

    for the record. my post was meant as a well meaning observation, and I have had discussions elsewhere with others on this very subject.

  9. Thanks, Anonymous, but while accepting that your comments may be well-meaning, you seem to have missed the point that, however well-socialised or even 'passable' you may be, in Julie's eyes you are not and never have been a woman. Gay man, perhaps. And her representation of Kimberley Nixon is (through lack of research or other motives) very wide of the mark.

    Which was what I had been writing about.

  10. Anonymous, I'd say then you were almost duty bound to go present an examplar of evolved, more socialised transwomanhood to Ms Bindel, that she might begin to form a more balanced opinion. Would you be prepared to do that? :-)

    Suzzy Mackenzie, musician, Aylesbury

  11. Please read my comments on the subject at 'Just plain sense' interview with Stuart Lorimer. He was instrumental in contributing to make my life hell despite many years of RLT. The sooner CX GIC is closed down the better!

  12. Thank you, anonymous. I've not been able to find anything there to develop your argument, which doesn't agree with my opinion about either Stuart Lorimer or CX. I'm just saying, rather than deleting your comment as not appearing to contribute anything