Gen-“duh” issues

Posted: April 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

I don’t identify as trans, and I don’t claim to speak for trans people on any level. I don’t even speak for young, bisexual, socialist, vegan, cisgendered female student nurses with poor eyesight – only myself. But being a queer feminist, I am of course passionate about gender issues, and that naturally encompasses trans issues.

Through being involved in LGBT activism, I’ve met and interacted with a fair few trans people, and also make a concerted effort to better educate myself on the issues that trans people deal with – both the positive and negative aspects of living as a trans person. I think people can often forget that for most trans folk, life is so much better after transitioning, because they are now living as who they really are, not how society would like them to be, based on what was between their legs when they were a tiny screaming baby with no opinions or self-identity. But it’s also obvious to anyone with a brain that being trans in a society which places so much importance on gender roles and expectations is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. Simple things like not having a box to tick on application forms, because actually you’re not M or F, you’re just you. And getting abuse for going into the “wrong” toilet. Being constantly asked about your genitals.

I follow Paris Lees on Twitter, as well as the My Transsexual Summer crew, and it’s through this that I found out about META magazine – a brand spanking new magazine that focuses on trans issues. It’s fucking awesome, BeeTeeDoubleYou. In issue 2, I followed a link to a video of Paris interviewing the notorious Julie Bindel, a woman who does not have many friends in the trans community. In this interview, she makes a whole bunch of weird and often contradictory statements. She says she takes issue with the label of “lesbian”, but also says she is a proud lesbian. She says that because she transgresses gender norms on a daily basis, she herself is trans, but then goes on to say a load of stupid, inaccurate and wholly offensive things about trans people. Julie Bindel is weird. And stupid. I don’t like her.

One especially awful thing she says is that parents helping their children access puberty-blocking treatment is child abuse. This is said without actually consulting with the parents and children themselves. Just to be clear – I don’t have a 100% clear-cut position on the issue of puberty blocking. It’s a very tricky situation, as is anything involving drastic, non-life-saving* medical treatment for children, and it’s a situation I hope never to find myself in (not because I don’t want a trans child, but because I actually don’t want a child full-stop). But I think that every person’s case has to be taken individually, as with any other important life aspect. From the interviews I’ve heard and read, the children (or adults who received puberty blockers as children) are overwhelmingly grateful to their parents for supporting them, and for believing that their discontent with their assigned gender was an expression of their true gender identity, and not a phase or problem. People outside the situation are quick to jump in with their own views. 1: It’s “too soon” because a child can’t make that kind of decision. (Kids mature at different ages. We realise parts of ourselves at different times. If a trans kid is self-harming because they hate their body, isn’t THAT about the time you should be taking them to the GIC? But sure, some kids do fluctuate between boy and girl behaviour, but with trans kids it’s a lot more marked than putting on a dress or playing soldiers.) 2: There shouldn’t be a need for gender reassignment surgery because gender is fluid and shouldn’t be defined by body parts and outward appearance. (No it shouldn’t, but a) we live in a society that places great emphasis on how we look, from birth, so you can be as radical and against-the-grain as you like, you will subconsciously be conforming to that in SOME way, and b) if someone feels desperately uncomfortable with their body, because it makes them appear as someone they’re not ie. facial hair, breasts, muscle tone etc., how can you tell them that they should just “work with it” if it’s making them miserable?).

[*By this I obviously refer to things such as emergency surgery, chemo, anti-anaphylactic drugs etc. HOWEVER, many trans people look back on their pre-trans period and say that if they hadn’t transitioned, they probably would’ve taken their lives. So gender reassignment often IS life-saving, just not in the conventional way that most people think.]

It’s not like parents just rock up to a GIC with their kid and say, “Hey doc, stop my kid going through puberty, yeah?” and the doctor just administers a shot like that. Ten years later you’ve got a cis-man who hates his mother for his peachy skin and buxom chest. Anyone undergoing any form of gender treatment – hormonal or surgical – has extensive psychiatric and medical analysis, to make sure that they are definitely ready and it’s really what they want and need. But think what it might be like for a thirtysomething adult to have undo what was done by puberty just to feel right in themselves, when really they knew who they were at 10, and could’ve avoided the trauma of going through the wrong puberty and being ridiculed for having prominent features of their birth-assigned sex – I can imagine that’s pretty tough. So I’m not saying “YEAH puberty blockers, give em to every little girl who doesn’t like Barbie!”, and neither is anyone who is trans or has a trans kid/friend/parents/gives a fuck about trans issues. What I’m saying is that actually it’s a pretty brilliant concept to a kid who knows exactly who they are and who they aren’t, the thought that they don’t have go through the wrong kind of puberty. Puberty is already confusing and traumatic enough – I remember it clearly, and not fondly. I had appalling periods, hated my chest (it was far too small, i my opinion) and was depressed. And that was without gender identity issues. Luckily for me I settled into my non-heterosexuality pretty comfortably. I can’t imagine how awful it is for a boy having to worry about sanitary protection, binding his chest every day, changing for PE, not getting facial hair and having hips and a high voice… if that boy was a boy well before he hit puberty, I’d go as far as to say it’s possibly neglectful to deny him access to treatment that may well save his life later down the line. Trans teenagers have far higher suicide rates than their cis peers. Maybe earlier transitioning could save some of those lives.

So yes, Ms Bindel, in an ideal world there’d be no need for words like man, woman, gay, straight, trans, cis, bi, gender, blah blah blah, because we’d all just be free people in our various shades of the rainbow, and there wouldn’t be separate toilets and dress styles and everyone would be very tolerant (oh wait, Julie, you can’t be in that world. Sorry love). Sexuality and gender ARE fluid, but what she fails to realise is the stonkinkly obvious fact that trans people are proof of that. They don’t transition because they feel that they should fit in with gender norms. Trans men certainly don’t transition for male privilege, so she and Germaine Greer can both fuck off on that one.

Transphobic feminists give feminism a bad name, and aren’t in fact real feminists. Because feminism isn’t about WOMYN and vaginas and how rubbish men are. It’s about equality, regardless of gender.


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