Sold Out, Part II

Back on the 15th, which seems ages ago now, I wrote that I felt that many transpeople had been “Sold Out” by those that represent us and that there were some sort of backroom politics involved. It seems that, at least in the case of Press for Change, this is true.

Christine Burns herself wrote on Facebook “…I don’t share the view that’s clearly held by others about Stonewall. That’s based on the working relationships I have and agreements long ago now about how to avoid tripping over one-another when the Gender Recognition and CP bills were about to be tabled.” I guess us “mob”, as she calls us, have upset the applecart by not being party to the agreement and stirring up trouble for Stonewall.

I can understand that in politics, one does need to make deals to keep a consistent approach when dealing with the opposition. However, what I don’t like – and I know I’m not alone in this – is the apparent secret deals and politicking that has been done behind the scenes that we’re clearly not worthy of knowing about. Are Stonewall, PfC and The Gender Trust really so naive that they expected that this was a sustainable situation in the long run, once the next generation of political activists stepped up to bat? Stonewall and PfC were the “mob” once too and they don’t have a monopoly on political activism. Sad though it is to say, I’m starting to wonder if PfC might turn out to be one-trick pony now the Gender Recognition Act has gone through – and even the GRA might turn out to be an own-goal in some respects for trans people.

That whole Bindel Thing

There is already a demonstration planned outside the V&A but I’m not sure that will do enough to embarass Ben Summerskill, the Chief Executive of Stonewall, into realising this isn’t just some small group of troublemakers who have nothing better to do but whine about things, which seems to be his view. However, if even one nominee or celebrity refuses to turn up to the event (The Metropolitan Police, it’s reported, have already withdrawn their support) because of Julie Bindel, that’s a more major embarrassment.

Are there any organisations out there that would feel happy putting their name on the bottom of a letter to the various nominees (I don’t mind drafting something for people to approve) pointing out, politely, that Stonewall are anything but champions of diversity? Individuals would be good too but the names of a few established organisations would help make it look less like a bunch of whiners who have nothing better to do.

Another approach is to gather the email addresses/contact details for the same group of people and put them in one place (Ethically, I think I would have to send out a list on request rather than just posting it on the internet) so that people can write to all those we know who have been invited in their own words trying to persuade them to make a stand.

(Now I think about it, perhaps we could get a few badges produced and send them out to nominees, see if we can get anyone to wear some sort of Trans solidarity badge while getting their award…)

The following text was published in The Metro (A free London paper) last week:

We do show some archive stuff, but new work and new relevances keep emerging all the time. Like the current outrage over Julie Bindel’s nomination for Stonewall Journalist Of The Year, despite her absurd views about gender surgery being just a kind of modern-day gay or lesbian aversion therapy. Our speaker, Roz Kaveney [Wed, Static Gallery, 7.30pm, free], the well-known trans author and cultural commentator, should have a lot to say about that.

Interview with Julie Bindel

Christine Burns interviewed Julie Bindle this week, in a long-planned interview – very topical given recent controversy. The initial chat wasn’t about the Stonewall nomination controversy, but it hints at it – at about seven and a half minutes in she says that she doesn’t set out to be controversial only to start debate and doesn’t necessarily stand by things she’s said in the past.

At eveven minutes, half way though, the conversation turns to recent events and she explains her position – classic 1960s and 1970s “Second wave feminism“. In her own words, she’d like to see an “end to gender” and it’s this key point that means second wave feminism and the transsexual movement are never going to see eye-to-eye. Second-waveists believe gender is socially constructed but we’re rude enough to disprove their argument by our mere existence. She also still believes that psychiatrists from the 1950s until very recently used a diagnosis of transsexualism to offer a surgical solution to anything that was seen as gender-inappropriate, thus defending gender. Amusingly, she later tries to claim that she wasn’t misinformed but just holding a different opinion when Christine challenged her with a quote from Stuart Lorimer, a psychiatrist at London’s Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic, that she was “spectacularly misinformed”. I would suggest that if she thinks one might accidentally get a diagnosis of GID when going to the GPs, that she has a look at what most people have to go through to get the diagnosis, hormones and surgery in the first place. If you’re not desperate and already know what’s wrong, you’re not going to get anywhere!

According to Press For Change, Julie said a “very clear sorry for things she agrees she had got wrong”. I didn’t hear that apology myself – she chose her words carefully and apologised for the tone in which she said things that might have caused offence and promoted more discrimination but I didn’t get any more from it than that. Whilst I agree with PFC that she has opened the door for more dialogue I’m not sure this is really that positive as she claims to just be misunderstood and wants to clarify and defend her position, which she’ll do in writing soon. She’d like a “heated debate” but not a “heated argument” but I get the impression she will pick her adversaries very carefully – it’s clear the recent controversy has gotten to her and she attacked those that had “closed the door in her face” while saying that others such as Christine and Stephen Whittle had engaged with her. I don’t believe she understands the position we feel we’re in, as she’s a columnist for the Guardian and we’re… well, not. She even goes so far as to acknowledge herself that writing a column like that gives her immense power. Given that she is on one extreme, it would seem reasonable for her to openly engage with the other “extreme” – the bloggers and others who are angry about her nomination – rather than the more “moderate” and conservative old-guard of the trans activism community such as Stephen and Christine.

Sold out

Most people are probably aware by now of the fuss over the well-known lesbian feminist and transphobe Julie Bindel being nominated for a Stonewall award. There’s a lot of anger in the community over this, understandably. With the Bitch protest earlier this year and also the Zucker/Royal Society of Medicine protest, there was a sense of “This is the kind of thing we need to make our voices heard over” but we understood that largely it was education that was the problem – we were there mostly to make the organisers sit up and notice the trans community and take our views into account. It’s notable that these aren’t “organised” events in the standard sense. There’s no political lobby group trying to score points behind it all and the only coordination was someone letting the police know there would be a bunch of people handing out leaflets outside the RSM (So they could come and babysit) and someone actually knocking up a few of those leaflets to hand out.

There was nowhere near the level of anger there has been over the Stonewall awards, because it was recognised that these organisations were not involved in LGBT politics. But this is bigger, far bigger, than the previous two demos, largely because Stonewall should have known better. The trans community has long been uneasy about Stonewall (Witness the “Some people are trans, stonewall need to get over it” posters at Pride London 2008) and these awards have generated multiple spontaneous groups arranging protests, including people organising group trips via a hired coach from places like Manchester – it would be pretty hard to argue that there’s anything but solid grass-roots support for a protest against Stonewall.

The Gender Trust then joined in the fight. Lunchtime yesterday, they posted a newsletter in which they wrote Julie Bindel has “…publicly stated views on the care and treatment of trans people which the Trust considers are seriously transphobic”. They continue: “The Gender Trust opposes this nomination which it considers is inappropriate for an organisation such as Stonewall, which holds to the principle of acting to overcome prejudice and discrimination” and close by urging everyone to write to Ben Summerskill, the Stonewall Chief Executive, “as soon as possible… to stop this pernicious attempt to reward an individual who undermines the lives and needs of the transgender community.”

All good stuff. But it didn’t last. Just before 8pm tonight, another newsletter appeared. Apparently, it would be “churlish” (They like their long words, don’t they? I had to look that one up to check it meant what I thought it did) to protest further because of “reassurances given”. Stonewall apparently claimed they “stood foursquare with the trans community in fighting transphobia” and “nominations had had to meet criteria which related to the work that a nominee had been involved in during the preceding year”, so prior work of Bindel’s wasn’t taken into consideration. That’s a pretty fine line to walk, given that the anti-trans-themed debate on Radio 4 that Julie Bindel herself proposed and claimed was “her mission” took place in August 2007 – 14 months ago. But wait, 30 seconds with my web browser and I find an article about this years Lesbian and Gay Film Festival where Julie Bindel whines about the very trans-inclusive policy of the organisers of having unisex toilets. The date? 10th April, 2008. I don’t think I need to start counting pages on the calendar to figure out that’s less than a year ago.

Julie is someone that the NUS LGBT voted this year to refuse to share a platform with, because her views were so blatantly transphobic. (As far as I’m aware, she’s the only person to have that honour. She was certainly the only one to have a motion to that effect even proposed in 2008)

I, for one, am calling the Gender Trust out on this. Why have they so quickly done a U-Turn and sold out the community they are supposed to be representing? One can only assume politics are involved somehow. Someone knows someone, or someone put pressure on someone on the Gender Trust board and they turned their back on the community they were supposed to be helping over the one issue that has the community the most incensed it’s been since I’ve been a part of it – and all without doing any basic research on the issue at all.

It’s clear there’s a growing grass-roots movement against many organisations that inadvertantly act transphobically. It’s sad that it seems that the “grass roots” are also turning against many of these groups that claim – but fail – to represent us.