Against Vaginoplasty

Why would anyone consent to being mutilated by the removal of her genitals, if it were not right for her? Because of a complex set of cultural taboos and permissions, under which certain ways of being are OK, and others are Not.

Here I put the case against vaginoplasty. I am glad I did it. It was how I survived. We don’t live in the ideal world where femininity and masculinity are valued in both men and women, without being associated with either, and don’t know how we would react there. Could the culture have forced my choice? I don’t know that it did, but this is a possible way it might have done.

I had a desperate need to see myself as a good person. This is how Carl Rogers’ “Self-concept” works, which he thought universal; and the “Shadow”, those parts of the self you cannot admit which come out to bite you. Greater maturity comes with seeing the “Organismic self” as good in itself, but I am considering  how I was around 2000-2004, my mid-thirties. Not good in myself, I was only good for what I could achieve. Of course I am vulnerable to ideas about what is acceptable or not, including ideas about how transvestites are perverts but transsexuals have a medical condition, and how “Post-ops” have made it, “Pre-ops” are lesser, journeying towards The Op, and “Non-ops” are decidedly dodgy- do we really believe this individual can’t have it because of a heart condition preventing anaesthesia? These were the words used at the time, and the attitudes of the “Support” groups.

Like so many people, I found sex confusing and embarrassing. When I was 18 I met M, who was 27. We climbed over the railings into Hyde Park in the dark, and held hands, and it felt wonderful and amazing, with a huge erotic charge. Later we went to bed together, and it did not. I was not doing what I wanted to do but what I understood I should do. Being a man, I should be on top, waggling my hips up and down. I did not get far with it. I had similar experiences with two other women before 2000, never lasting long.

Rather than doing what I wanted for itself, I did it as a symbol of proper manliness, because I wanted to seem to be a proper man.

(Any Quakers who know me reading this? Why write this, On the Internet!!? Because I still find myself ridiculous and disgusting, and try to find a way through that.)

And I felt ashamed of wanking, yet did it, mostly to fantasies of presenting female or “forced feminization”. My wet-dreams were of cross-dressing. I loathed this intensely. Sex should unite people and it isolated me.

I had the operation because I chose it. Perhaps this is why I chose it.

This is not why I express myself female. I am feminine. Presenting male, I had to act like a man “should” be and expressing myself female I could be more me.

This sounds terribly gender-essentialist. Male and Female created He them. Man-masculine-pole and Woman-feminine-hole: between the two there is a great gulf fixed. However that attitude is prevalent in the culture: in this version of truth I am a victim of it, not a perpetrator.

How I want not to see myself as victim, constrained into action as if canoeing down rapids with the choice of only one course, or smashing into rocks.

Some legal systems require physical alteration before they will grant gender recognition. Some trans campaigners are fighting this. Yet in Britain, with Gender Recognition and protection from discrimination for those who decide permanently to change gender, and nothing for non-standard gender presentation, the social pressure remains.

Cis people might want to know your operation status- they are asking, “Are you a proper transsexual?”  Now, Trans campaigners are insistent this is unacceptable, and political correctness goes along with us.

Testosterone suppressors and oestrogen change body hair patterns and produce breast growth and impotence. We still take those.


I am playing devil’s advocate. I think I am more autonomous than that. At worst, it means that I made myself infertile and less able to participate in sex, because that was the price extorted by my culture which I had to pay in order to be authentically me, in the only way I could see how. I am better off, authentically me.

Hieronymus Bosch, The Temptation of St Anthony, detail 2

Don Pasquale

“They were doing really well, cycling up that hill” said Pat. There’s nothing difficult about that hill, with reasonable gears. “You must be really fit then,” she said, and I realised how proud I am of it, how it delights me striding along in top gear. There is not much I feel proud of. The next day someone in cycling gear rather than jeans and a t shirt overtook me easily. He was probably going further than me, too, and not necessarily much younger. Oh well, my jeans and t shirt label me not a Serious Cyclist, and yet I am still proud.

I got to my friend’s house in the dark, hoping to change into my pretty frock. She was running late, and her garden is not overlooked so I put my light on a chair and changed and made up. Then she said she was more than half an hour away, so I went to the pub to keep warm.

-Haven’t seen you in here before.

We got chatting. He used to work in the shoe factory in Marsby. Very little shoemaking in the county now, I say. My turn. I’m going to the Opera. They don’t believe me. Where’s that then? I tell them of that concert, and they say there’s no church in Dell. So we get our phones out.

“Set up- say ‘yes google'” says my screen. Oh, why should it be so complex? Why should my location be continually known to the phone company, Google, facebook, whoever?

“Was that what you meant?” asks another man, who finds that the concerts are usually in the Manor-house. Yes, but I know the difference between a church and a manor-house: one room is most of the building and you can see the roof from inside. Though I give up explaining.

My friend had worried about going in there in case anyone thought she wanted to get picked up. I am still worried about going into pubs in case I am abused as trans- but actually I was uncomfortable there, because I am an Outsider.

Don Pasquale by Donizetti was performed by Opera Minima, four singers and a pianist, and a silent Maid whose hammy facial expressions were hilarious. I spent most of the second half feeling complete delight, loving the voices, harmonies, tunes, and the English translation which rhymed, scanned, made sense and was singable.

Hieronymus Bosch, The Temptation of St Anthony, detail 8

Understanding trans

When considering transition, you may come across rubbish like this: Self identified trans individuals are interested in perpetuating understandings of gender identity disorder only in so far as they affirm their transgenderism in the terms which are most comfortable to them. So claimed a transphobic commenter. He claims to be a fetishist, and to believe that we are fetishists too.

In my blog you will find the case for transition. It is not for everyone- my transvestite friend once spent a whole week in drag, and at the end was heartily sick of it- but if it is right for you, it is really, really, right. There is evidence of that everywhere: teachers, doctors, academics, writers, members of parliament– with Caitlyn Jenner it may be too early to tell, but generally transition is a good thing.

I am interested in understanding. I have no need for the autogynephilia hypothesis to be false- if I were convinced that that was what was really happening, I would not change from expressing myself female, and would not consider that a reason for anyone not to transition, if they wanted to. But I believe autogynephilia is not true, because where there is desire to express female, and arousal by that, it is more likely that the desire causes the arousal than the other way around. Blanchard’s theory fails to explain what else could cause the arousal.

No, femininity causes our desire to express ourselves female.

That transphobe commenter claims to imagine that we are fetishists, turned on by the thought of being emasculated rather than of expressing ourselves as the feminine beings we are. This is merely silly. My femininity has a positive value. It is expressed according to the terms of my culture; its attributes, such as kindness, can be a man’s as well as a woman’s; yet taken as a whole I am feminine. I do not have to justify that to anyone, and certainly not to the transphobe wxhluyp, whose response to the strongest evidence is blank denial.

He alleges we are only interested in affirming our understanding of transgenderism. Clearly not: I have wrestled with the concept of autogynephilia, at one point believing it.

Human beings lie to ourselves. We create stories to justify ourselves. When I say I am female, and feminine, nothing will stop wxhluyp the transphobe from grinding out “You would say that, wouldn’t you?” We seek out arguments to justify our gender expression. But that does not apply to the trans woman considering whether to transition. Certainly in my generation, we are terrified of it, and run as hard as we can away from it. We take up macho professions such as the armed forces.

Thirteen years after I “went full time”, the picture is more mixed. There are children who against great resistance have convinced their parents they are trans; and yet if a lesbian aged 25 can be ashamed of her sexuality, there are certainly adults who have not yet transitioned, and are terrified of doing so, or in denial.

Denying and self-loathing, we seek out arguments like autogynephilia to buttress our desperation to remain male. We are so desperate that we might even consider “masochistic emasculation fetishism” as an explanation. Even recently, I gave far more weight to arguments against transition than I need to, and considered reverting.

Against this self-loathing, I give you- common sense. You know you want to transition. You know how feminine you are: you will come to value that, in time. It is a long journey, but it is worthwhile. It will make your life better. Those trans children are not interested in the arguments about whether it is right– they know who they are, and work to realise it. That is all the understanding you need.

If you have come from Reddit, please tell me what you think, and what your interest is. There is a comment box below.

Hieronymus Bosch, The Temptation of St Anthony, detail 5

No platform III

So what of Julie Bindel’s claim that gay men and lesbians may be pressured into transition and “sex changes”, to mimic straight people? Yes, it happens in Iran, but does it happen here? Apparently it does. She made the claim on this Radio 4 programme in 2013.

In Standpoint, she quoted one. “I was a messed-up young gay man,” says Claudia McClean, a male-to-female transsexual who opted for surgery 20 years ago. “If I had been offered an alternative to a sex change, I would have jumped at the chance.” Bindel does not suggest what alternative was available, but the obvious ones are reverting, not transitioning, or expressing female while retaining her penis. Claudia would have spent a year or two presenting female before surgery, longer if on the NHS. Those who regret, who blame the doctors, make transition more difficult for the rest of us. In 1990 there was a great deal of normalised homophobia- on the TV, in the papers, on the streets- but presenting female was hardly easier for a gay male than being out gay.

I believe a certain androphile trans woman told my friend Andy that she was “a gay man trapped in a woman’s body”, though she did not revert, and though Andy should not have named her to me. Again, where did the suggestion that she should transition come from?

A gay man born in Italy in the 1970s told me that in his teenage years he had considered transition. Italy has a macho culture; yet he did not.

I could have been straight. A lot of trans women are gynephile. We clearly are not transitioning to conform to a straight female stereotype enforced by patriarchy. The blog self-called “Silly” still carries on, claiming that the evidence for genetic and brain differences in trans women from cis men are all in the androphiles, and the gynephiles are all autogynephiliac perverts. Don’t go there, it is hate speech: in one page she advises the wives of trans women that “in a very real sense” their husband has died. But if there is all that evidence of difference in the androphile trans women, it is not merely that gay men are pressured into transition.

Clearly, not all trans women are gay men pressured into transition, and not all androphile trans women revert, or regret the operation, even if some do. Then, who is the person needing protection? Not the gay man who falsely imagines he has gender dysphoria, and foolishly transitions, then has his penis and testicles removed, willingly- for he only has to say “No, thanks” and the operation will not happen. And most people in Britain can find gay-accepting sub-cultures, especially now, but increasingly since 1967. Conservative Evangelicals and Catholics hate trans people, as well as gay people: you will not find Christians who would reject you as gay but welcome you as trans, though that is a myth other TERFs have peddled.

To protect that notional gay man at the expense of real trans women, who must jump through hoops, and wait, and wait, for hormones and the operation, is transphobic.

Hieronymus Bosch, The Temptation of St Anthony, detail 7

No platform II

Should transphobes be refused a platform to speak at universities? Yes, even the feminist transphobe Julie Bindel, who has done good feminist work on violence against women; even if she is contracted to speak about other issues, she could not resist a sly kick against trans women.

In The New Statesman, Sarah Ditum claimed No Platform is used to silence debate. She quoted Bindel: All I have ever said was question the essentialist meaning of transgenderism, because, by positing gender as fixed it flies in the face of feminism. I will show this to be a lie. They see themselves as victims: The no platforming has taken the form of direct intimidation – “I had death threats […] I was shouted at, physically attacked on stage,” Bindel tells me. They feel what they say and do is justified.

Ditum asked trans activist Roz Kaveney for examples of Bindel’s hate speech, then quotes Kaveney’s tweets: “I love the assumption that I have time and energy to list offensive remarks by Julie Bindel & then explain why each one of them is hatespeech”; “Remember my past remarks that one aspect of WLF [white liberal feminist] transphobia is the demand for endless unpaid access to trans people’s time? That.” Ditum’s sense of entitlement is so great that she still does not get it. Bindel could have told her what has been found objectionable, and why, if she had any empathy; I found Bindel’s transphobia with ten minutes on Google and Wikipedia, so Ditum could too.

Ditum demanding that a trans woman quote it arrogates to herself the right to judge whether Bindel’s remarks are truly transphobic. I doubt Ditum would accept they are, because Ditum is also transphobic. I will quote a few, to show why they are objectionable; and give the trigger warning when I start.

Bindel is unrepentant. After she was asked to comment on Caitlyn Jenner, she posted on facebook, “Thank you for asking. However, I do not fancy another 11 years of McCarthyite bullying, threats, no platforming, vilification, misrepresentation, false accusations, and my work on sexual violence towards women and girls being under threat.


“Feel free to use this explanation in print as to why I have chosen to turn down your request.”

I don’t want her work on sexual violence being under threat, either. Her transphobia is far less important than that work; but no-platforming means that student bodies and publications are not associated with transphobia, or trans folk exposed to it where we should be safe from it.

Don’t bother reading Ditum’s article. It does not address the arguments or consider the nature of hate speech, merely vilifies and plays the victim. Here is a useful article- in the Guardian!– about Bindel’s transphobia. And now, the trigger warning: transphobic hate speech in the next section. Continue reading

No Platform

Is Germaine Greer transphobic? Yes. Should she be no-platformed? No.

On Newsnight on Friday night, Kirsty Walk interviewed Greer about the petition started by Rachael Melhuish, Cardiff University Student Union women’s officer, to prevent her from speaking there on the subject Women and Power: the lessons of the twentieth century. The Vice-Chancellor of the University supports Freedom of Speech, but Dr. Greer is unlikely to go: I’m getting a bit old for all this. I’m 76, I don’t want to go down there and get screamed at and have things thrown at me. Bugger it. It’s not that interesting or rewarding.

She should clearly not be no-platformed, because of her eminence, and because as she says transgender is not her issue; but also because the speech would have been ignored outside the lecture hall, and now she has had more than half a million people hear her say one indubitably transphobic thing (trigger warning, I am going to quote it) and other things which are not the current consensus.

The transphobic thing was It seems to me that he [Caitlyn Jenner]- that what was going on there is that he- he/she- wanted the limelight that the other female members of the family were enjoying and has conquered it just like that.

The suggestion that we transition on a whim, or for notoriety, is hate. My claim to anyone’s sympathy, or anyone humouring me by using my female name, is the pain I have suffered. Picture me, lying on the bathroom floor weeping and screaming, curled in the foetal position, crying “I am not a man!” Repeatedly over months. Or the Indian middle class person, who could go to university and get a good professional job, but would rather be Hijra- a beggar or a prostitute.

See for yourself, but I am unsure whether Kirsty Wark, interviewing, is trying to get Dr. Greer to incriminate herself, or to say things Wark wants said but is too scared to say herself. It sounds like a catechism. Wark mentions Caitlyn Jenner, and Dr Greer says, wearily, “Must you?”

This is not transphobic: Caitlyn is to be honoured as Glamour Magazine’s “Woman of the year”. Dr Greer says I think misogyny plays a really big part in all of this, that a man who goes to these lengths will be a better woman than someone who’s born a woman. I agree that the beauty myth peddled by Glamour is misogynist, and wish Dr Greer had not called Caitlyn a man.

I don’t think this is transphobic either: I think that a great many women don’t think that post operative M-F transsexual people look like, sound like or behave like women, but they daren’t say so. That is simply true; though I doubt Dr Greer would like anyone judging her, or other cis women, on how “womanly” they are. I am not saying that people should not be allowed to go through [GRS], but that does not make them a woman. No, actually, it doesn’t; but generally I am treated as an honorary woman, treated as if I am a woman, and I rub along more or less OK like that.

A friend said Dr Greer is stuck in the 1990s. She says, People get insulted all the time. Australians get insulted every day of the week. That is not my experience: over the last twenty years discourse (apart from on Twitter) has been much more gentle. We object to offensive words.

There are two views: trans women are ridiculous and disgusting men, who should be shamed out of their perversity; and we are extremely brave and have overcome great difficulties, so should be treated with courtesy, as honorary women. Those holding the former view have been encouraged, because of the no-platform attempt.

Dr Greer also says You don’t have to say everything that is in your mind. You do use tact in the usual way. I would for example, with someone who wished to be known as female, use female speech forms, as a courtesy. I can live with that, actually, someone not accepting me as female but using my real name. You don’t get on with everyone.

Would she say something mollifying? No. I’m getting fed up with this, you know, I’ve had things thrown at me, I have been accused of things I have never done or said, people seem to have no concern about evidence or indeed even about libel.

Hieronymus Bosch, The Temptation of St Anthony, detail 3

Good and Evil

In Swanston Grammar School in the early 1970s, R had only one sex education lesson, which consisted of photos of the final stages of gonorrhoea and syphilis. At the back sat a huge rugby player, who displayed no emotion at the images until one of a nurse with a syringe, at which he fainted.

R recalls the tyranny of Normality. He was constantly being told he was not Normal, and he should try to be. It is hard to get over that.

We went on to The Towers of Trebizond, by Rose Tremain, about an Anglican mission to Turkey.

-When is it set?
-The 1950s, when it was published.

She wasn’t writing then? I know it is 2015, but for the first time I got out my new phone, googled on it, and found he meant Rose Macaulay. Anyway. In that book, the protagonist has an adulterous affair with a man, who dies. She could then repent and return to the church, but feels that would betray him: she remains faithful by not making a form of repentance. That seems honourable to me.

In Danny and the Human Zoo, based on the early career of Lenny Henry, Danny’s father is not his mother’s husband, but a man who has a series of affairs. Why would he do that? Because he can. Why would his wife- in the 1960s and 70s- put up with it? Because she cannot see a better alternative.

-There is no consequence for him.
-In this life, at least, says R. I don’t respond to that. I don’t believe in life after death, and do not want to discuss it with him.

I don’t see this as evil. It is more a lack than a positive quality: he forgoes mature interdependence with an equal partner, because he cannot imagine it. He betrays his wife because he cannot see value in faithfulness.

My grandmother had The Screams, like a Dostoevsky peasant-woman, before she died. My uncle beat her. If that is evil, it is a lack: it emerges from his inadequacy. He could not respond to love; he saw nothing better. Then he took over her council flat.

And if he did it from a desire to hurt? Oh, I don’t know. Still, lack, still an inability to empathise, or to control impulse. We both find this hard to contemplate, though we both are aware of the concept of sadism. R shares that fire brigades employ child psychologists to attempt to cure infant arsonists of their impulses. How would you do that? In the moment, when you contemplate a fire and the warmth, excitement and beauty of it, to think of the consequences and Resist-

These dominant men hurting submissive women. Could anyone desire such vulnerability? Yes, like that still-violent man who had been done for attempted murder, and the grey woman who hung around him- not because she could find no better, perhaps, but because she wanted him-

You have some stories, says R, when I tell him of that ageing prostitute. I was trying to craft a plea in mitigation for her after some depressing incident, and she was coming on to me. In my early twenties, I did not realise until after. It was the only thing she knew to try, the only power she had.

I understand that want, how fear and desire mix, wanting to be controlled…

Hieronymus Bosch, The Temptation of St Anthony, detail 6

Stating the problem III

My problem is not that I am trans, though it never makes anything easier. Writing on Trans- a memoir, the Guardian shows how the difficulties of transition may be overcome, how a trans woman may pass simply as a woman- though that is a bother, as she gets cat-called in the street- and how trans moves on, and young trans women are finding their own way not following the paths of those before them.

Clearly. Outing now is a complete taboo. Mischievously, I asked my friend if she knew other trans women in our social group, and watched her embarrassment. “Well, er, there’s that lady who…” she stumbled. “Juliet,” I said, definitely. “Juliet…” she said, still embarrassed. Ordinarily I would circumlocute: “Whether there are any other trans women who are Quakers, I could not possibly comment.” And yet, there is nothing embarrassing about it, is there? My friend is not ashamed of being diabetic, and showed off the electronic device which calculates exactly the speed at which continually to release insulin. That thing, penetrating her body, is arguably more personal.

These things move in fashions, understandings flow across the culture, the way we do things morphs but is always quite definite in the moment. Channel 4 has a programme of excerpts from 1980s programmes, and warns of casual racism and homophobia “from the start and throughout”: so often, the movement is improvement; and yet it is so constricting!

My problem is not that I am trans, but that I have been taught so well to devalue, despise and hide my femininity that even now I loathe it, deny it and see it as weakness. My first question is always “How am I wrong?”

And, I doubt myself so completely that I procrastinate everything, imagining that I will just get it wrong. These come from childhood and adult experiences.

The problem is not who I am nor how I may act, but my attitude to it. I can change my attitudes, a bit; and yet I get that letter and just feel fear.

Paintings now: details from The Temptation of St Anthony by Hieronymus Bosch.

Hieronymus Bosch, The Temptation of St Anthony, detail 9

Seeing what is

-At least in theory, I understand other people have an existence separately from mine, with their own feelings and motivations: but mostly they are a mystery to me.

-I have a strong idea of what is right and wrong, and how individuals and groups should be. I expect these standards of myself, and also of others, and [attempt to] use disapproval to enforce them. I have little patience with failures.

-I have great patience with people in need, with disabled people or frightened people, and when I see I can do something to help will devote great energy to that.

-I have an instinctive understanding of people, and form useful first impressions quickly.

It seems I could make each of these statements, believing it at the time. They could be different parts of myself, fulfilling different needs. They could be different circumstances, some of which I see well, some unclearly. They could be me at different times, in one feeling confident and secure, in another doubtful and apprehensive. That is, I cannot know how I will respond in a particular situation and imagining it can get in the way: the only answer is to be in the moment and seek to see what is now. The monkey mind is in imagined past or future, and at best irrelevant now. Fortunately, I can often respond now, well enough.

And, each of those statements is an observation of how I have been, at one time or another.

Here, Rheam melds his mythic and realistic modes:

Henry Meynell Rheam, Violets, 1904

Seeing others

I want to see you as you are.

And yet I want to fit you into some kind of conventional habitual right way of being, though I know that has no value, gives me no delight, distances me from you, prevents our connection…

And I want to produce some habitual conventional response to you, though it is as uncomfortable as not knowing.

I seek illusory safety in illusion.

None of this works, yet I keep trying it; and also see through a glass, darkly, the reality of you, the possibility of something better. I feel a clod, Caliban before Ariel.

And I am climbing toward-
something else-


I was delighted to meet Ruth at the Quaker meeting. She is training to be a Methodist local preacher, and takes one service a month. We discussed inspiration to speak. Her trainer has set aside his notes, and spoken from the heart during worship: it spoke to her heart, it had immediacy, it moved her far more than other sermons.

(We try to fake that, and it is dire: I remember excruciating ex tempore prayer with Evangelical students. “Lord we just– ask…”)

She has not the courage for that, but she has been working on a sermon and felt inspired. The words come, the unthought direction of the preaching comes.

She is the Other, with Other experiences and responses to mine. With such a short encounter, it is so much easier to place her in conventional understanding rather than see the person behind that. These are, after all, thoughts I could have about inspiration, and I am at the stage where imagining


could be cosy and reassuring and habitual.

It is worth practicing, trying something else-

Rheam, arranging flowers