Thursday, 23 April 2015

Simplistic certainties: Has Dawkins chosen the side of the oppressor?

Richard Dawkins has decided to jump headlong into the no-platforming debate with a simplistic tweet about no-platforming in universities. 

To suggest that people should not be at a university of they oppose such a debate is, in my opinion, simplistic, childish and puerile. There is a serious debate to be had about this issue and it appears to be one that people like Dawkins increasingly refuse to engage with. University is not merely about exposing people to old, accepted certainties, academia is about examining the nuances of an issue. I don’t know about Dawkins but my scholarship is about looking behind the obvious, the simplistic assumptions made about the world and exposing complexities, nuances, contradictions and differences which underlie many of the oversimplified assumptions accepted in our daily lives or in public debate. That is what academia is about, challenging certainties and undermining the simplistic. I would even go so far as to suggest that, if you accept the simplistic without question you should not be in academia.

Which is why his simplistic assumptions about the no-platforming debate are disturbing. He has clearly not engaged with the arguments regarding the TERFs, a group of trans-haters, bigots and harassers who hide behind the label of “feminism’ to harm trans people. My arguments against allowing transphobes to speak in universities (which TERFs have conspicuously failed to engage with) are here and here, I have yet to hear any significant challenge to these arguments, the silence is deafening; the issue of no-platforming TERF transphobia is not as straightforward as Dawkins, Bea Campbell or many others would like it to be.

Dawkins’ intervention comes at a time when the TERFs themselves have actually demonstrated how unwilling they are to engage in a genuine debate about their behaviour. Recently pressure was applied by a number of organisations regarding the Michigan TERF Music Festival, a transphobic event from which trans women are excluded. Indeed, in order to prevent TERFs from derailing negotiations about the future of this festival, and ending its transphobic discrimination, a number of people suspended their names from a petition against the Festival, so there would be no impediment to negotiations. But rather than talk to people about the Festival it appears that the TERFs have decided to abandon it completely, in other words when the discussion is about them, the TERFs, when it focusses on TERF behaviour, hatred, exclusion, discrimination, harassment, abuse and violence against trans people, they do not want to engage in that discussion, funny that... 

Yet somehow Dawkins appears to support their right to come into universities and argue against my right to exist. Dawkins also seems to be unaware of the fact that university is the number one place where young trans people come out for the first time, away from hostile or unsupportive homes or stifling and violent local communities, thus rendering any ‘debate’ far from neutral. The mere existence of a debate in a university at all, would be a big advantage to the TERFs. Young trans people don’t want to have to spend their time in halls of residence, the coffee bar, the SU or lectures/seminars/discussions having to justify their existence to other students who have had some half-baked TERF (inevitably untrue) simplistic certainty planted into their heads. They want to get on with transitioning, their lives and their studies. Being "safe" is easy for a wealthy straight, cis, white man. Safety for a young trans person coming out for the first time in a hostile world is very different, as the trans suicide and self-harm statistics suggest.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” There is no neutral position in this situation, a neutral debate cannot be had, there is no fence to sit on, there are no “reasonable” positions to be held in which one can understand the “positions of both sides”. You are either on one side or the other. Dawkins needs to decide which side he is on from a position of understanding the complexities of the situation, not from swallowing simplistic mendacities of the TERFs. He needs to engage in this debate, or maybe confronting these unfamiliar ideas is too far out of his comfort zone...?

Saturday, 18 April 2015


A very quick blog before I go out and canvas for the Labour Party today.

Katie Hopkins latest Nazi rant in the Sun (yes it was just like Nazi oratory from the 1930s) once again seeks to divide and rule, to dehumanise and to portray other human beings as a disease. Her words are designed to be deeply offensive and she comes from a long line of deeply offensive rightwing ranters like Littlejohn and Melanie Phillips; people who make their living out of being deliberately offensive.

Yet we need to step back from the vileness and hatred expressed in her obnoxious tirade and ask why.

Why is Rupert Murdoch giving this woman space in his newspaper? Why does a rightwing neoliberal multibillionaire need someone like her to attack other human beings?

The answer is twofold.

Firstly, business as usual for the Global Neoliberal Establishment (GNE), they are only able to sustain their economic hegemony by divide and rule. This is part of their quotidian everyday propaganda that they need to churn out to maintain their unfair advantage and exploitative dominance.

Secondly it is a classic manifestation of “look over there!” Rupert Murdoch wants to distract you from other things, depending on your gullibility level and political instincts he wants you either to spend time hating foreigners life a disease or to spend time hating Katie Hopkins. Either way he wins.

So what are the things he (and people like him) want to distract you from?

  • The NHS crisis (which the BBC deliberately edited out of the TV debate last week)
  • Zero-hours contracts
  • The racket of schools privatisation (which rivals the extprtion rackets of any mafioso)
  • Low-pay and poverty wages
  • High fees for university students
  • The lack of training and opportunities for young people
  • The housing crisis; high rents and the impossibility for young people ever to become home owners.
  • The deficit which has ballooned under Cameron
  • The scandal of tax avoidance by the super-rich

This is what he is doing. The next three weeks up to the election will be the media vs the Labour Party. The media, from the BBC to the Telegraph and the Sun will be looking to do four things;

They will paint David Cameron in the best possible light on every occasion.

  • They will select for publisction stories that are advantageous to the Tories and deselect those that are advantageous for Labour.
  • They will continue to subject Ed Miliband to personal attacks (something the Green Party has joined in with now).
  • They will subject Labour to microscopic scrutiny while pixelating the Tories.
  • They will seek to focus attention away from the issues I have listed above, especially the NHS.

So what’s the best way to get back at Hopkins, Murdoch and the rest of the GNE and their lackeys in the propaganda machine that our "media" has become?

Talk about the NHS, Zero-hours contracts, housing, tax avoidance, low pay, etc. That is what I am off to do now.

Stay strong and don’t let yourself be distracted.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Rowan Atkinson makes more sense than Woman's Hour.

Reading the transcript of the Womans’s Hour programme broadcast on BBC Radio on the 9th of March I couldn’t help but be reminded of Rowan Atkinson’s TV advert for Barclaycard

Broadcast many years ago, when I had time to watch telly, and paying the licence fee didn’t mean supporting a racist political party, it consisted of Atkinson trying to buy a carpet in an Arab country. His character was under the impression that he spoke the same North African language as the merchant. In fact it turned out that Rowan Atkinson’s character had to admit that he and the merchant were “both fluent, but sadly, in different languages”.

This is what struck me about the Woman’s Hour attempt to set up a fight between a trans person who knows about trans children, and a Radical Feminist; they both spoke fluently but in distinctly different languages. Michelle Bridgeman expertly put the case for trans children to be given access to proper healthcare very well and Finn McKay argued that gender should not be policed in the way it is.

Michelle was talking, in essence, about relieving the suffering of trans kids, and preventing suicide and self-harm. Finn wanted to change the gendered culture of our society which she maintains, is oppressive. They are actually two different things, like Rowan Atkinson and the carpet dealer’s languages.

Probably the moment that summed up Finn’s position was when she said this; 

“if that starts from a position, from a baseline assumption about what is supposed normal and natural femininity and what is normal and natural masculinity, then that is nothing more than medicine based on stereotype and that is only gonna function to actually maintain this brutal gender regime that I think puts pressure on us all, and conveniently blame it on nature instead of blaming it on ourselves.” (my italics).

It is this suggestion that medical care for in this instance trans children “puts pressure on us all” which needs to be deconstructed. What sort of “pressure” is she referring to? Pressure to conform to gender stereotypes, I suspect. Her thesis appears to be that by allowing trans medical care that somehow reinforces gender stereotypes and the reinforcing of those gender stereotypes somehow harms the TERF project of degendering society. The implication is that trans children should be forced to suffer in silence to avoid destabilising the TERF project. This has been the core issue at the heart of the TERF argument against trans people’s existence since its violent inception in the dark days of the early 1970s. This is not to say that there is not a residual element of this in gatekeeping psychiatry as some non-binary people in particular are discovering but as Sandy Stone pointed out in the 1990s, by and large trans people manipulate the shrinks not the other way round.

Unpicking this further the idea is that perhaps 1% of the population changing their gender is somehow acting to oppress the other 99% or as she describes it; supporting “this brutal gender regime”. So 
  • the media, 
  • the courts, 
  • the police, 
  • the education system, 
  • the professions, 
  • the political system, 
  • the economic system, 
  • science and technology… etc. 

are of less importance than a tiny and desperately marginalised and misrepresented 1% of the population? 

Suddenly the word “disproportionate” springs to mind. 

Trans people exist, and do no more to support what Finn describes as a “brutal gender regime” than anyone else, and probably actually do a great deal to undermine it compared to the average cis individual. 

However the section of that quotation which probably most illustrates how Finn and most trans people are actually speaking different languages is where Finn says “it is nothing more than medicine based on stereotype”. Of course MIchelle Bridegman put the real case that this is about making trans children’s lives more liveable, and preventing harm. But here Finn appears to be engaging in the age-old TERF accusation of a kind of pro-active, panoptic medical apparatus that acts to seek out and “normalise” gender non-conforming people. A state of affairs which exists only in the imaginations of some TERFs.

There are two things wrong with this; firstly a fair proportion of trans people are not “gender non-conforming” and there is nothing wrong with this, after all the overwhelming majority of cisgender people are also not gender non-conforming, one would have thought that the Radical Feminist project would, if it were to have any chance of eliminating the “brutal gender regime” attempt, first and foremost, attempt to change the behaviour of that majority. Finn may not like it but trans people have as much right to conform to the gender with which they identify, as cis people and I’m sure Finn would not want to be accused of double-standards in this instance. Secondly, it ignores the inconvenient fact that, for trans people, especially trans children, to obtain any medical treatment at all, requires an enormous struggle. Those who require any kind of medical intervention are normally required to get past a strict gatekeeping regime, obtaining any kind of surgery often feels like an intense struggle against this regime. 

However there is more and I think this is also where different languages are being spoken. Finn seems to be under the impression that being trans is about masculinity and femininity, after all these are central concepts in Radical Feminism, yet in my experience from being trans myself and knowing a large number of trans people is that primarily it is about identifying as male, non-binary or female, it is about how one identifies, rather than whether one adopts particular traits which can be described as either masculine or feminine. I know some trans women who are very feminine, and I know some who are not at all, I know trans men who are masculine and plenty who are not. It seems to me that for most trans people it is primarily about identity, bodily integrity, and being recognised as their real gender, masculinity or femininity take second place for most and are entirely unimportant for a great many.

Finally Finn seems to drag up the old, and very outdated TERF canard that trans people are essentialists. 

Newsflash... are the overwhelming majority of cis people, we live in a society in which gender essentialism is the predominant ideology. 

Indeed I would wager that the proportion of trans people who, like me, consider themselves to be social constructivists rather than essentialists is very much higher than among cis people. Of course one doesn’t have to peer into the festering mire that is TERF discourse to realise that this is firmly grounded on an ideology of biological essentialism. Actually, whether one considers trans people to exist essentially or social constructively is pretty much irrelevent, we exist, and we are not going to stop existing for the convenience of an abusive and hate-riddled ideology that may never succeed in enforcing its gender-free utopia sometime in the dim-distant future. 

Ultimately trans people want to live liveable lives and as such are largely (as Catherine Mackinnon put it recently) “aggressively indifferent” to the TERF project of a degendered world which may never come about. This really is a case of “My ideology is more important than your lived experience.” Would trans people not exist in a gender-free utopia? Well I’ll tell you when we get there, or rather my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great great, great, great grandchildren might, if ever they get to experience it, but right now I would just like to get on with my life in a liveable way, just like most trans people. TERFs have failed to sell trans people their utopian ideology, (I wonder why?) and one has to seriously question their tactics. If a gender-free utopia is ever to come about, it will not happen through coercion.

So it seems to me that getting someone like Finn on to talk about trans kids is in effect getting a cricket player to commentate on a football match or a psychologist to talk about quantum physics. Personally I think Finn is trying to sit on an imaginary fence between trans people and TERFism. Well in that case she needs a helicopter; there is no fence, there is only a chasm.

The Way Forward

One has to think of our society as it is currently constituted, as conducting a kind of ubiquitous and persistent  Conversion Therapy for trans people, especially trans kids. In effect society tries to delegitimise trans people, to erase our experience and to tell us we are not who we say we are, in short it deploys the same methods that Conversion Therapists do to try and turn us into ex-trans people.  This is where the TERFs are especially guilty of harm to trans people. Their action has been to try and reinforce this status quo, and indeed to try and return to the status quo ante of forcing trans all people and trans children to submit to “talking therapies” (ie more Conversion Therapy), to conform to our originally assigned genders and situating us as the problem rather than society as a whole. Finn talks about “gender policing” well, outside of school, I have experienced far more gender policing from TERFs than from anyone else.

I have long maintained that trans children need to have access to what Laverne Cox calls “possibility models” from a very early age, to make the knowledge available to them about trans people and trans kids. Trans people should be on the school curriculum for all children from the age of 4 or 5, to ensure trans kids can get to know that there are other people like them, that they are not alone, that there is nothing wrong with them and that they can take control of their lives. This has been the case in California since 2011 and civilization hasn’t collapsed there.

Also we need to go further than President Obama’s expression of condemnation of Conversion Therapy. It should be made illegal to attempt to intentionally change anyone’s gender identity or sexual orientation whether by going to one of these quack therapists or through unofficial coercive methods. This would mean that trying to make a trans child into a cis child or an LGB young person straight should be considered a form of child abuse whether carried out by a school, a religious organisation or a parent.

The problem is that TERFs, along with other transphobes, will try and portray the proposals contained in the above two paragraphs as representing “child abuse”. This is unacceptable and in itself represents TERF child abuse by proxy.

Last but by no means least… The Behaviour of the Woman's Hour Team

At issue here has also been the behaviour of the media, in this instance the editorial team of Woman’s Hour. As CN Lester eloquently explained it in their blog, this is effectively about the BBC manufacturing an argument for the sake of listeners. In the end they got no fisticuffs, which I am sure will disappoint Jenni Murray and Anne Peacock. 

It has to be said however that, trans people are not dancing bears, we are not performing dogs or clockwork toys you can just wind up for the entertainment of the public. Trans people are still a badly misunderstood group and the main reason for this is the way the media has still often failed to tell our stories, to explain to a largely ignorant public, who we are. It was clear that the makers fo this programme were woefully ignorant about trans issues. As CN said this is not merely a case of Woman’s Hour failing to adhere to the standards required of it as a public service broadcast programme but it also represented extremely unprofessional journalism with the programme makers clearly both very ignorant of the issues around trans children and seemingly making no attempt to remedy this. 

So the final question I have to pose is this; although Trans Media Watch and All About Trans have done great things, achieved a great deal in changing media attitudes in general, it seems that we may be getting to a point where some of the media are ignoring these groups. Recently there have been examples of media platforms deliberately not consulting either of these groups because they want to sensationalise a story, and usually that sensationalised story relates to trans children. Do we need a different approach entirely (possibly a more aggressive one) to deal with these type of stories and journalists? When we have “journalists” like Carole Malone proudly saying that she is “no expert” and then going on to talk about trans kids we have a problem. For too long the media have peddled "commonsense" opinions by making ignorance a virtue. It is time for this to be challenged robustly by trans people.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Actual harm

WPATH is a professional organisation for those working in the area of healthcare for trans people. It is constituted by the WHO, (World Health Organisation) and it sets standards and procedures for medical treatment of trans people. The important thing is that this is a professional body and one which deals with provision and standards of healthcare from trans people on the basis of scientific and medical evidence, as well as listening to input from trans people themselves.

It may not always come up with ideal results from the point of view of trans people but it has generally moved in a positive direction in recent years, there is, of course always more to do.

As part of its activities it has started an onilne consultation to enable trans people to have input about its decisions and activities. This is important and good to see an organisation like this listening to those who are directly affected by its deliberations. What it decides is important for trans people, in terms of our health both physically and psychologically.

Unfortunately there are those whose intention is to disrupt its workings and reduce the effectiveness of trans healthcare and trans people’s access to it: TERFs.

The TERFs (Trans Exclusionary “Radical Feminists”) are a small group of individuals who like to portray themselves as engaging in a “critique” of gender, yet almost never engage in any critique of gender. They like to portray themselves as being prevented from engaging in a critique of gender by trans people “sliencing” (ie criticising) them.

Of course this descriptor is wlidly inaccurate to the point of being deliberately misleading since TERFs have since their inception in the early 1970s, engaged in abuse, violence, stalking and bullying of trans people. They have also engaged in intervening harmfully in trans people’s healthcare. Many people believe that TERF interventions in having trans healthcare made inaccessbile to poorer (ie mostly black and Hispanic) trans people in the 1980s resulted in the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands of trans people in the US since that time. 

Well now this kind of intervention to cause actual physiological, psychological and material harm to trans people is back, giving lie to their claims to be “gender critical”. TERFs have set up and shared a website linking to the WPATH consultation with trans people with the intention of flooding it with views intending to harm trans people and impose their own hate-filled, abusive ideology on standards of care. This website invites TERFs to intervene in trans healthcare by responding to the WPATH consultation.

It directs TERFs, for example, to push for WPATH to include the thoroughly discredited theory of “autogynephilia”. This is dangerous and has the potential to result in WPATH making decisions about standards of care that it would otherwise not make, and to the detriment of trans people.

Fortunately some of us have taken this to senior officials in WPATH and they are now alerted to it and are taking action to ensure that the TERF posts concerned play no part in determining WPATH policy or standards of care. They have also assured us that the World Health Organisation is aware of what is going on and will take action accordingly.

However the upshot of this incident is that WPATH may well be unable to run any genuine consultation exercise with ordinary trans people because of the possibility of distortion by anti-trans bigots. This, in and of itself, is harmful to trans people, and may indeed have consequences for trans people as the consultation becomes less effective. In other words TERFs have not only tried to influct actual harm onto trans people but they have probably succeeded in doing so by dint of the fact that WPATH will be unable to engage in as effective a consultation on ICD-11 as it would otherwise want.

So when the TERFs claim, as they often do, that they merely want to engage in a kind of discursive critique of “gender” they are deliberately misrepresenting themselves. TERFism, is not a critique of gender (indeed their “critique” of gender pretty much begins and ends with trans women, even in the rare instances it occurs) it is a mode of action, as I have said before.

It is common knowledge that TERFs engage in routine abuse, defamation and harassment of trans people both online and offline. They also doxx and stalk trans people, both online and offline, indeed these are probably their core activities. Some engage in deliberately misleading journalism which engages in targeted misrepresentation of trans people and trans people’s allies and our needs and lives. However the intervention in professional issues of trans people’s healthcare has clearly not gone away. These actions by the TERF community are clearly reprehensible, harmful and morally obscene. 

When you next hear a TERF complaining they they  “only want to engage in dialogue” and only want to put their side of the story in a "fair and democratic" exchange of views, remember that they are enaged in deliberate, calculated action behind trans people’s backs to cause us actual physical harm. TERF dishonesty knows no bounds.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Grant Schnapps and Afzal Amin: Tory deception and double standards.

In the last few years politics has had to deal with more than its fair share of dodgy characters and the Tories more than most, indeed the Tory sleaze that was rife at the end of the last Tory government led by John Major is now evident at the fag end of the current one. From David Cameron’s appointment of criminal media man Andy Coulson a couple of years ago to Grant Schapps' and Afzal Amin's antics this year, the Tory party shows its true colours once again. This is the kind of thing that has led to “new” political parties popping up pretending to be “different”, “anti-establishment” and wanting a “new kind of politics”. In fact of course these parties are none of these, and trying to convince the electorate that their kind politics is any different from any other kind of politics represents a significant deception in itself.

But let’s just recap on the current Tory fiasco; Schapps lied about continuing to work for his company after being elected an MP. In my opinion this isn’t just “screwing up” as Schapps has tried to obfuscate, it was deliberate. You don’t do something like that accidentally. You don’t miss being elected to parliament and then “forget” to stop doing your other job. Worse though was Schapps’ subsequent cover-up. It looks like he threatened to sue a, relatively poor, Labour councillor for saying publically that Schapps was working after being elected as an MP. To me this looks like bullying and an abuse of power from Schapps’ wealth. As a constituent Dean Archer had every right to make known to other constituents and electors, what their MP was doing. 

So it seems to me that Grant Schapps wanted to deceive electorate in order to get elected. Meanwhile Afzal Amin, Tory candidate for Dudley seems to have been caught bang to rights trying to…deceive the electorate in order to get elected. He was summarily suspended from the Tory party pending a fuller investigation. Now I’m not saying that all Tories want to decieve the electorate, I’m sure there are some who are honest, but by trying to get the EDL to say they are going to stage a demo outside a mosque and then pretend to get it stopped seems me to represent trying to get elected under false pretences.

So why have these two Tories been treated so differently? Amin has instantly been told to “fess up and leave” the party, whereas Grant Schapps seems to be under no pressure and is going nowhere, despite the revelations about him. Why can Schapps, in a much more senior position than Amin, get away with what he has done and Amin be out on his ear pretty much as soon as the story breaks? What is going on in the Tory party for these double standards to function so blatantly...?

One further complication. Who was the person that suspended Amin from the Tory party…?

Party Chair; Grant Schapps…

Sunday, 15 March 2015

"Clarksonism" and Natacha's Middle Finger.

Since the Nuremburg trials of the late 1940s, all scientific endeavour has been required to abide by a strict code of ethics regarding the way it carries out research involving human subjects (or "participants" as they should now be called). The merciless  horrors of Mengele’s hideous Nazi “experiments” on human beings were never to be repeated. 

Unfortunately these ethical considerations have been regularly flouted in the last 65 years, and research involving trans people is one of the areas that has been disproportionately affected by these ethical violations. It has only been in the last decade that institutions have become a bit stricter with academics about research ethics.

Off the top of my head I can think of 6 major pieces of research about trans people (or as transphobic academics like to call us, “transgenderism”) by people like Raymond, Garfinkel, Jeffreys, Bailey and Money that are, in my opinion, unethical in important aspects. I suspect there are plenty more examples one could add to this list.

The disprortionate level of ethical problems with scholarship and research related to trans people is surpassed only by the way other research about trans people has been discrdited for other reasons. In short the scientific/academic community has treated trans people disproportionately badly over the years. I guess there have been a large number of people researching in this area who appear to suffer from a culturally-induced tendency not to regard trans people as human beings. It would also seem that some people publishing in this area are also transphobes who have used academia as a platform for political hate campaigns as anti-trans activists. I believe much of Janice Raymond’s output on trans people fails on ethical standards. Arguing that trans people should be “morally mandated out of existence” is in my opinion an incitement to the current bullying, abuse and harassment of trans people by TERFs on social media, offline and in mainstream media. In my opinion on this count alone she fails ethical consideratiuons by publishing what I believe to be an open incitement to transphobic hate-crime. I also believe, as do many people, that her intervention in political decision-making to deny trans people in the United States access to medical care has indirectly resulted in the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands of trans women. I also believe she should be held accountable, in a court of law, and if necessary at The Hague for her actions.

So this is the background to Alice Dreger’s book “Galileo’s Middle Finger” reviewed in First of all a disclaimer; I haven’t read the book, only the review in Salon and those of people on Amazon who were given pre-publication copies to read, along with an Amazon free sample, and to be bluntly honest after that I have no intention of wasting my time and money on it, so this post is based on these pieces of information. One of the reasons for this is that it strikes me as little more than a strop, a rant at trans people for getting in the way of the “truth”, about trans people, a point I will return to in a moment.

Also, after reading some of the reviews on Amazon, my worst fears were confirmed;

Yes, the title is misleading according to these reviewers. It appears to be more of a highly partial, subjective memoir than what it is marketed as. To be honest I thought, from reading the title; "Galileo's Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science" that it would be a detailed historical investigation of the great scientists who struggled against oppressive regimes to reveal the great scientific discoveries of our world. Alas no, it seems to be little more than a tirade against a highly marginalised group of people who are trying to stop the sustained and harmful abuse by science which harms and oppresses us.

However, one further point I would like to make first is to put this publication in its historical context. The earlier research on trans people was carried out in a time, in the middle to late 20th century, when trans people had little or no voice, and were culturally and socially marginalised to a much greater extent than we are today. As such it was easy to regard us as other than human, as people suffering from a problem or a defect. Defective human beings who, therefore, do not have any rights. In the time before the internet it was extremely difficult for trans people to work together to counter these cultural misconceptions, which were, in some instances, deliberately fostered by researchers. That changed in the late 1990s and first few years of this century, when the internet became available and trans people worldwide became able to support each other and form active groups in order to fight for our rights and against transphobic bigotry, abuse, harassment and discrimination. Unfortunately it does not appear to have changed the research community’s practice very much, as Gavi Ansara's and Peter Hegarty’s award-winning study of cisgenderism has shown. 

So, cisgender people used to be able to engage in pathologising, unethical and harmful research into trans people, and face little opposition or critique. These days, when they do, they find their work critiqued by well-informed activists, discredited by other academics, including trans academics, and their ethical violations exposed. How they must long for the day when academic freedom to research trans people meant that they were not accountable for their actions to the population they were researching. 

It is in this context that we need to judge Dreger’s defence of her colleague J Michael Bailey. One of the main things Dreger seems unhappy about is that Bailey’s central theme, that of trying to pin the label of “autogynephilia” onto trans women, should not be as badly discredited as it is. Her central thesis seems to be that his theory of autogynephilia is somehow “the truth”.  As far as the content of this book is concerned, it would seem that Dreger actually offers little no evidence to support this, something this reviewer also picks up on; 

This is where most academics’ alarm bells, if they hadn’t been tinkling already, would be clanging away on full blast. Any academic, especially a social scientist, who claims to be searching for “the truth” is, in my view, either not very good, or has a very suspect understanding of epistemology. Indeed searching for “the truth” has connotations of vaguely religious extremism, as in the Halleluja right-wing “Christian” zealots. In the view of most people I know, “autogynephilia” only exists in the imagination of Bailey and the abusive output of TERFs. Dreger seems to think he was right in carrying out his “research” because he believed he was right. Quite why she comes to this opinion I don’t know, other than she seems to cite his own self-belief. When this is compounded by little or no evidence to support her central claim, one can only wonder about the value of this book.

In addition Dreger, engages in the practices with which trans people are fully familiar these days, of putting words into our mouths and setting up straw man arguments;

In fact the number of trans people I know who consider trans as a kind of intersex is tiny, indeed there are almost certainly a far greater proportion of trans people who are firmly in the social constructivist camp than cisgender people. Of course it helps her case to reduce all trans people’s arguments to just one, but it is also profoundly misleading.

The Salon article, written by Laura Miller, as far as I can see an otherwise OK feminist historian also includes the following assertion;

“The tragedy in this contretemps is that both sides want the best for trans women and both ended up expending huge amounts of time battling people who essentially share their own goals.” 

I have to take issue with this. I have met no trans people who think Bailey’s or Dreger’s actions have ever demonstrated that they want the best for trans women. In my opinion what is good for trans women should be decided by trans women and not cis psychologists whose work results in our further pathologisation and marginalisation.

One of the problems, which doubtless Dreger ignores, is a very important piece of research by Moser published in 2009, which revealed that 93% of cisgender women in his study fit the criteria for autogynephilia, a figure which effectively makes a mockery of Bailey’s and Dreger’s claims, as if they haven’t been subject to enough discrediting anyway. One has to start questioning the motives behind those, largely cisgender male, researchers associating "autogynephilia" with trans women when the majority of cisgender women also fit the criteria for autogynephilia. So if "autogynephilia" is present in the overwhelming majority of cis women, why are people like Bailey focusing so intently on trans women? Of course, people like Bailey and Dreger, when talking about "autogynephilia" tend to leave out a whole lot of research, including my own, about trans children. The idea that a 5- or 7-year-old is "autogynephilic" would be verging on the comic, if these people didn't take it so seriously.

One can only come to the conclusion that their "research" is motivated predominantly by a desire to objectify and Other trans people and present us as different from everyone else in ways we are not. Doubtless this would then become a useful justification for further unethical research into trans people. One might even come up with a name for this tendency, or syndrome, or condition. Obsessive Transfemininity Fetishization Disorder. I can see how OTFD can apply to a number of people, from the cisgenderist psychologists of Midwestern America to rightwing toilet obsessives to hardine, penis-fixated TERFs.

Additionally once one reads Talia Bettcher’s excellent piece of scholarship  “When Selves Have Sex: What the Phenomenology of Trans Sexuality can Teach about Sexual Orientation.” it becomes apparent that the way we regard sexuality is strongly influenced by a cis, white, male, western, Abrahamic epistemology, and that sexuality is considerably more complex than Bailey or Dreger could possibly imagine. 

So the way I read this article, and the way I would approach this book, if I could ever be bothered to read it, is that it represents a strop. A strop by an old-school paternalistic researcher who misses the old days when academics could get away with publishing any old crap about trans people, in the knowledge that it would go unchallenged into the annals of classic scholarship, and would help to keep trans people firmly in our place. The whole thing seems to me to be a full-on, toys-out-of-pram, face-down on the floor, red-faced, kicking, screaming and stamping tantrum, “I want my theory! I want to be famous for discovering something! I want people to take me seriously! I’m not useless! I’m going to scream and scream and scream until I get what I want…! It’s Not Faaaaaair! Waaaaaaah!”.

This is, of course, a state of affairs not unlike the current TERF strop in mainstream media about "right" to tell lies about trans people to university students. Indeed the recent high-profile mainstream media campaign by TERFs to have transphobes allowed to speak in universities, bears more than a passing resemblance to Dreger's tantrum. Until the late 1990s the mainstream media narrative about trans people was dominated by the TERF point of view, a point of view largely unchallenged because, in a similar way to that which I have described above, trans people had not emerged and coalesced as a set of online communities able to exert pressure and present our side of the story. Now that has changed the TERFs are crying all sorts of foul, largely "censorship!", when what they really mean is "Oh no, our hate is now being challenged and it doesn't stand up to trans people's criticism!"

Mainstream journalists and editors are, however still churning out column inches of anti-trans propaganda, and faux victimisation narratives from people with access to national and international news platforms claiming to be "censored".  

This represents a tendency, in recent times, for those in the mainstream establishment with the most power in any given situation to pretend to be mavericks, plucky outsiders, fighting against an oppressive...errr... whatever.  These faux mavericks, fake outsiders are in essence, central establishment figures, people who are not just on the side of the oppressors, they ARE the oppressors. They are the ones silencing those with less power, they are the ones claiming to speak up for common sense in a world of political correctness. I call this "Clarksonism"; millionaire TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson, friend of the prime minister and journalist for right-wing newspapers, is as central an establishment person as you are likely to get, yet he pretends not to be. Other Clarksonists include former banker Nigel Farage, Bea Campbell OBE and establishment insider Guido Fawkes. People who carefully, and with the help of the media establishment, construct a position in which they present conservative arguments as "radical and iconoclastic" coming from people who, despite being in positions of power and influence, present themselves as heroic revolutionaries fighting against an oppressive system (of people less powerful than themselves... only they don't mention that bit). Of course trans people are used to Clarksonism on more than one level, when people who present themselves as trans allies, actually turn out to be TERFs.

Fortunately the academic world has moved on a little bit from those bad old days and research about trans people is subject to a bit more scrutiny, and that is the way it should be. This is why Dreger's book seems so oddly out of place, so vacuous, pointless, Clarksonist and hopelessly biased. This is why “Galileio’s Middle Finger” gets Natacha’s Middle Finger.

Monday, 9 March 2015

TERFs; more fanatical, and less credible than ever…

TERFism - sorry… “gender-critical feminism” took another nose-dive yesterday in terms of its credibility. They doxxed a trans woman in their rage at the decision by Planet Fitness in MIdland Michigan to send an apparently transphobic woman packing when she complained about the presence of a trans woman hanging up her coat and bag in the ladies changing room. This is grist to the mill for TERFs, it is their big thing; ultimately their aim is to prevent trans women using women’s toilets. An oppressive measure designed to harm trans women and dramatically reduce our freedom.

The TERFs doxxed the trans woman, someone who had done nothing wrong and who was simply using the gym like other customers. Another gym user complained about her hanging her coat and bag in the ladies changing rooms, and this is what the TERFs have been getting steamed up about. Yet, as usual with TERF rhetoric it doesn’t bear even the slightest close examination; according to Planet Fitness it was the  “manner in which her concerns were expressed that club management felt was inappropriate, which resulted in the cancellation.”

Doubtless the TERFs will claim this cis woman had her membership revoked for complaining, but this is just a typical TERF fabrication of the kind we have got used to (honestly if they said the sky was blue, I would look out of the window to check). Obviously I am not privvy to the nature of the way she complained, whether it was hard transphobic bigotry or ugly rudeness to staff or both, we will probably never know. What we can be sure of however is thst she was not barred because she complained, since  Planet Fitness, like any successful business say they “welcome all feedback from members.” Doubtless this will be lost in the red-faced screams of the TERFs.

However the TERFs have gone even further; they doxxed the trans woman by taking a picture of her at a moment when she had to detransition. Some trans people have to do this on occasion, they detransition because their families do not accept them as trans people. It is a terrible thing to have to do but necessary if these trans people ever want to see their parents, sometimes their children or other family members. Sometimes it is their only option, such is the state of transphobia in our society.

That the TERFs have decided to make their fanatical political capital out of this state of affairs is indicative of their methods and ideology. Let us be clear, when trans people have to detransition in order to retain any connection with their families, that is a direct result of our society’s transphobic culture. It is sickening and very revealing that the TERF community uses this as a means of trying to delegitimise a trans woman. 

This brings me to the main point of writing this; the way TERFs consistently try to call themselves “gender critical” feminists (that’s when they are not dishonestly claiming to be speaking for “women” or “feminists”). There is no “critique” of gender in what they have done to this woman, no critique of gender in their shrill rage, only abuse, lies and harassment. Yet people like Bea Campbell claim, in national mainstream media, that the TERFs have a legitimate discourse which is suppressed (or, to use their alarmist vocabulary, “censored!”) by student unions’ women’s groups no-platforming policies. Yet here we have an example of what people like her would describe as “legitimate discourse” and it is empty of any material that can be sensibly debated or discussed.

What this incident illustrates is how dishonest are the TERF clams to have valid arguments which deserve to be democratically debated in universities. They have never had anything “critical” of gender to argue, they only have abuse, lies and harassment. Young trans people coming out for the first time at university deserve to be protected from these haters spreading such deliberate misinformation about them.