Tuesday, 21 October 2008

nowhere to run to

I said in my previous post that I wanted to look more deeply at the Vancouver Rape Relief centre business. I'll flag a few points and then move on to my own experiences and opinions.

Kimberley Nixon, a transsexual woman, challenged the centre over its refusal to accept her for training as a counsellor. Here's the chronology as stated by the VRR themselves...

...and, from a write-up about the court case,

"Vancouver Rape Relief Society v. Nixon et al., 2003, Ms. Cormier listed the collective political beliefs that the Society requires its volunteers not to disagree with:

1. Violence is never a woman’s fault,

2. Women have the right to choose to have an abortion,

3. Women have a right to choose who their sexual partners are, and

4. Volunteers agree to work on an on-going basis on their existing prejudices, including racism.

The requirement that a woman be a woman from birth was stated to be complementary to the tenets to which all volunteers and members of the Society must subscribe in the Court of Appeal case. "

First, what Julie Bindel said in 2004, and what she stands by still:

The arrogance is staggering: having not experienced life as a "woman" until middle age, Nixon assumed "she" would be suitable to counsel women who have chosen to access a service that offers support from women who have suffered similar experiences, not from a man in a dress! The Rape Relief sisters, who do not believe a surgically constructed vagina and hormonally grown breasts make you a woman, successfully challenged the ruling and, for now at least, the law says that to suffer discrimination as a woman you have to be, er, a woman.

A few pointers:

Kimberley Nixon had herself been sexually assaulted. She had received support from another women's organisation at that time. Had she attempted to access the VRR, she would have been excluded for the same reason that they wished to exclude her as a counsellor. She had begun training as a counsellor with this other organisation, and was described as "exceptionally gifted". (reference here)

More widely, from my own experience and that of my friends:

  • Men can be violent to women
  • Women can be violent to women
  • Women can be violent to men
  • Counselling can be a pretty intense experience. You can either work well with a counsellor, or not. And there can be any number of reasons for that. And there are always other counsellors.
  • There are transsexual women, both 'out' and 'stealth', who work and have worked in women's refuges

O heck, that's enough of that. There's plenty of info out there, and any amount of noise and clutter, and slinging of terms like "male privilege", "cisgender privilege", "transphobia" and even "lesbophobia". You pays your money, you takes your choice. Do you suppose that Julie Bindel had taken the trouble to acquaint herself thoroughly with the facts (which, presumably, one would expect her to, given that she is supposed to be writing about them) when she described Kimberley as "staggeringly arrogant"?

Thank goodness, I've never been sexually assaulted. I've had verbal and physical abuse, and vividly remember the wholly world-turned-upside-down experience, after I was assaulted, not only of no action being taken, but of being myself blamed and told I'd been 'asking for it'. Not a unique experience, of course, but bear with me; it's never easy, I'm sure.

Sorry I keep coming back to the P&O business lately; it affected me deeply, and this present silliness is bringing it back.

After it was all over, I joined the Gender Trust because I wanted to be able to help other people who may be going through similar difficulties to myself. Maybe it's fairly normal; after the trauma and healing, an ardent desire to go out and make the world a better place. It didn't work out with me and the GT, as it happens; I guess I'm just not suited to committees and politicking. Anyway...

...I am very careful about entering women's space, personally, although in practice I haven't really had occasion to, beyond changing rooms and loos, of course. But that's my own life path. Fairly late transitioning, with a few indicators of my male history about me, in my features and my voice. I recognise that for some people I may be "something rich and strange". It can be a nuisance: at a local photographers' meet, there was a woman whose work I admire, and I was looking forward to meeting her.

As it happened, I couldn't get a word in edgeways.

She mailed me the next day and apologised, because, she said, she had been nervous and afraid that she might inadvertently offend me. I told her that being open about things was the best way to not be offensive...

...as for my female friends, I think that for some I was or am on probation. Still wearing the L plates, as it were. Fair enough. It's a hearts and minds thing.

Mostly, I get treated as, er, myself. The 'man in a dress' thing? I've had that from a few males cited in the harassment case. And, evidently, that's what Julie Bindel thinks too.

It's a shame that there's so much shoutiness and divisiveness going on out there. While a major architect of it keeps quiet.


  1. Like so many things it seems to be that this situation degenerated, and became heavily politicised as it unfolded.

    On the one hand, it is a shame that it was this organisation and this issue that was at the heart of this dispute. Rape counselling is not the first frontier I would choose to break open the wall of societal prejudice against trans women, because it must revolve around what is best for the victim. If the victim has - sadly - grown up in a society which does not yet recognise transwomen as real women, and thus finds counselling by one difficult - that is very very unfortunate. But would you force the issue? In this situation?

    However, this is of course not what happened. It didn't come close to be forced, or even explored. No clients were sounded out, and no clients objected to Kimberley Nixon, because none ever saw her. VRR simply assumed that she would be unsuitable, and set aside her relevant abilities.

    In much the same way, 60 years ago, a black woman might have been turned away from such a place (had they existed then) because of the belief that clients would be distressed by her skin colour.

    VRR were wrong to do this, no question, but the difficulty lies in proving it. Should they have exposed Ms Nixon to a client and then found out that that victim was upset because of Ms Nixon's status - thus causing the client, who has just been raped, for Goodness sake - even more distress? Not a very good idea, and not a good time to give someone a lecture on dieversity and inclusiveness.

    But like so many other things, it never happens until one day it happens...And then it is suddenly possible...

    I don't think VRR wanted it to turn into this, and seemed conciliatory to start with...but it's really really tough. It boiled down to some pretty gritty principles pretty fast.

    Sadly I do think there is a huge give away in BC Court ruling that said "Vancouver Rape Relief had not discriminated against Kimberly Nixon and the group does have the right to freedom of association to organize as women only."

    To organize as women only?

    Meaning Ms Nixon wasn't 'a woman'. How sad that so often it does eventually come down to that attitude?

    And as Bindel...you reminded me of yet another sickening part of that article. She really is a piece of work...

  2. I do agree, Jo; there are no hard and fast answers to this case. There are all sorts of assumptions about why a transsexual woman should be unsuitable as a counsellor, though, and I do think that a lot of them are invalid. What is certain is that the piece by Bindel ignored important aspects of the case. Which makes it propaganda rather than journalism.

  3. I've been thinking long and hard about this. A rape victim is a rape victim whether they are male or female. I imagine that not many victims of any sort of violence are willing to re-live their own experiences, which they probably do, when they help others. Kimberly Nixon sounds like a very exceptional woman.

  4. Nice blog, Dru.

    Christina xx