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.
As well as Bindel’s hate speech on the radio, consider her articles in Standpoint magazine, and in the Guardian. When does a left-wing feminist pander to a right wing rag like Standpoint or The Spectator, except when indulging in transphobia? Bindel plays the victim in 2008, in the Guardian.
There are many examples of victimhood- in Bindelworld, she is a daring radical treated with staggering vitriol in vicious witch-hunts. In Standpoint, she says a powerful lobby affiliated with the lesbian and gay communities had been hounding me for five years. I don’t feel that powerful, actually, reading this; and she could easily silence the demonstrators, by ceasing her hate speech. Here, I do not call her a monster, and I value her good work; but rather than addressing the reasonable arguments, she complains of bullying and vilification.
It was wrong for a blogger to wish she would die of cancer. That is wicked, however much that blogger is hurt by transphobia, however much damage Bindel has done to trans women. We should take the moral high ground, and not descend to her level.
Bindel deliberately misrepresents. In Standpoint, she writes of Russel Reid recommending surgery for someone with bodily integrity identity disorder, but does not mention that he decided against such recommendations later. Then she quotes a Gender Basics definition of transgender:
A definition of transsexualism used by a number of transsexual rights organisations reads:
Students who are gender non-conforming are those whose gender expression (or outward appearance) does not follow traditional gender roles: “feminine boys,” “masculine girls” and students who are androgynous, for example. It can also include students who look the way boys and girls are expected to look but participate in activities that are gender nonconforming, like a boy who does ballet. The term “transgender youth” can be used as an umbrella term for all students whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth and/or whose gender expression is non-stereotypical.
According to this definition, a girl who plays football is trans-sexual.
The definition, and the document, clearly differentiates cis, gender non-conforming children- the girl who plays football, the boy who does ballet- from transgender youth. The document is not only supporting the rights of transgender youth in schools, but also gender non-conformists, like Bindel herself, as Bindel would surely support.
However, Bindel denies the distinction, to make something sensible sound ridiculous. She then uses her conflation to criticise the correct medical treatment of trans children, as if children are being referred to clinics by their parents for gender non-conformity- the girl playing football- rather than gender identity disorder.
Bindel mocks that definition, for the scorn and ridicule of Standpoint fans. More mockery later.
The misrepresentation continues.
Feminists tend to be critical of traditional gender roles because they benefit men and oppress women. Transsexualism, by its nature, promotes the idea that it is “natural” for boys to play with guns and girls to play with Barbie dolls. The idea that gender roles are biologically determined rather than socially constructed is the antithesis of feminism.
No, Standpoint objects to us and gives her a platform because we subvert traditional gender roles by transitioning; and feelings and responses associated with gender, rather than gender roles, are part biological.
It is misrepresentation to refer to Iran. Possibly, cis gay men there choose gender reassignment surgery rather than being stoned to death. That has nothing to do with my free choice to pay for the operation in Thailand. I could easily have expressed myself female at work, retaining my bits, had I wished to: I did, for nearly two years. It is misrepresentation to quote someone who regrets the operation, and blames the doctors. No-one forces us (outside Iran). She says a review found no robust scientific evidence that gender reassignment surgery was clinically effective. The weasel word there is “robust”: the review does not prove the matter to her satisfaction. And yet we continue living good lives, grateful for our alterations.
The misrepresentation matters because the whole article portrays us as victims, and gay men as potential victims, of rigid cultural gender roles, and the operation as a “brutal” “mutilation” forcibly conforming us to those roles. Rather, we are free people making free choices, responding to our own heart-felt need.
The result of the misrepresentation is that Standpoint readers feel entitled to exclude us and mock us. But it would matter less without the mockery.
Bindel herself thinks the no-platforming started because of a 2004 Guardian article, entitled “Gender Benders Beware”. The very title is a slur. Trans folk are not entitled to demand The Guardian be a “safe space”, but they should avoid slurs like that.
The mockery is of the operation. M-F: “disposed of their meat and two veg”. F-M: “have their breasts sliced off and a penis made out of their beer-bellies”. Both: “Kwik-fit sex changes on offer to all and sundry”. Then the notorious,
those who “transition” seem to become stereotypical in their appearance – fuck-me shoes and birds’-nest hair for the boys; beards, muscles and tattoos for the girls. Think about a world inhabited just by transsexuals. It would look like the set of Grease.
Bindel imagines there is pressure on cis gay men and lesbians to transition rather than make the gender expression they choose. She is merely paranoid.
She has apologised: she told Diva magazine I apologise unreservedly for both the tone and content of my 2004 articles. Though Diva has a smaller circulation than the Guardian, and the Standpoint article is worse than the one for which she apologised. Here is Diva on transphobia: Thirty and forty years ago to be a lesbian was to be questioned. Today things are much better for us (for the cis lesbians, that is) but there are still places where to be a lesbian is impossible. So it is for transmen and women, many of whom have been or are lesbian or bi-identified. We know something of these struggles. And just as others have supported us, so we must support those among us who are trans or we risk ending up on the wrong side of history.