The idea behind a balanced discussion is that you attempt to weigh up contrasting views of a subject that are of roughly equal weight. The trouble with discussions about transgender matters is that, all too often, the discussion is disrupted by some shouty person coming in off the street insisting that you use their scales, and then dumping a great pile of rusty old iron on one side of them and a bucket of frogs on the other. Crazy thing, that bucket of frogs, let me tell you.
Thus the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ proposed conference “Transgender: time to change.” Concern was expressed by trans people over the basic premise of the conference, and the choice of speakers. Then Charing Cross GIC pulled out of the conference, saying
…it now appears that the conference comes at trans issues from a very specific agenda, namely, to explore the validity or otherwise of gender diagnoses as medical and psychiatric phenomena. So long as this is the case, we feel we can’t support it.
And in very short order, the RCPsych announced that the conference was cancelled, citing poor ticket sales as the reason.
It seems odd that the RCPsych, and more particularly their Gay and Lesbian Special Interest Group whose conference this was to be, should have intended to give a platform to people who question the reality of transsexuality and who believe in reparative therapy for transgender people, while at the same time condemning the use of reparative therapy in the ‘treatment’ of lesbian and gay people:
The Royal College of Psychiatrists believes strongly in evidence-based treatment. There is no sound scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Furthermore, so-called treatments of homosexuality create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination flourish.
Many psychiatrists, psychoanalysts and psychotherapists find that their trans-sexual patients are individuals who, for complex reasons, need to escape from an intolerable psychological reality into a more comfortable fantasy. By attempting to live as a member of the opposite sex they try to avoid internal conflict which may otherwise prove to be too distressing.
It is a measure of their urgency and desperation that they frequently seek surgery to make their fantasy real. By carrying out a “sex change” operation on their bodies, they hope to eliminate the conflict in their mind. Unfortunately, what many patients find is that they are left with a mutilated body but the internal conflicts remain.
Through years of psycho-analytic psychotherapy, some patients begin to understand the origins of their painful feelings and can find ways of dealing with them other than by trying to alter their bodies. The recent legal victory risks reinforcing a false belief it is possible to actually change a person’s gender
I was surprised to find, on further reading, that Az Hakeem is actually a psychiatrist, working at the Portman Clinic. Though I’ve never heard from anyone presenting as transsexual and under his care. Reading Dr Hakeem’s opinions in his essay “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, I suspect that the condition of any such person may be complicated by incidences of masochism and Stockholm Syndrome.
And then there is Julie Bindel, whose qualification for appearing at the conference is her ability to say something very simple, very loudly. That thing being her core premise that “In a world where equality between men and women was reality, transsexualism would not exist.” Fair play, I can see how this argument might be attractive to students and people who enjoy the heady intoxication of a simple Big Idea. The Big Idea in question being that gender is a social construct. But surely the conference could have found a more intelligent speaker on the subject? Cordelia Fine, for instance, a psychologist whose Delusions of Gender covers this ground rather more honestly. I can only agree with Cordelia when she says
“There are sex differences in the brain. There are also large sex differences in who does what and who achieves what. It would make sense if these facts were connected in some way, and perhaps they are. But when we follow the trail of contemporary science we discover a surprising number of gaps, assumptions, inconsistencies, poor methodologies and leaps of faith.”
Maybe Cordelia was busy. Perhaps the RCPsych Gay and Lesbian SIG just fancied a mass chanting of “Four legs good two legs bad,” conducted by Our Julie.
Oh well. After a few weeks in which some trans people have attempted to talk with the conference organisers- Natacha Kennedy and Jane Fae, mainly, as far as I can tell- and been stonewalled for their troubles, it’s all off anyway.
So now we can expect accusations of bullying and no-platforming. Oh, look, there’s some already, in the comments section of Natacha’s CIF column in the Guardian. It seems somehow ironic; people are so used to talking about Teh Trans without bothering to talk to Teh Trans; and then get uppity when they find that Teh Trans do have a voice of their own, akshly. I still fondly recall Bea Campbell’s stern admonishment in the Guardian, that us uppity trannies should give her mate Julie Bindel a respectful hearing. Which kind of missed that Julie’s already had loads of chances to air her opinions (and to be corrected where she was in error) (as described here, here and here ) …and revealed that, rather than describing a narrative arc, her take on transsexuality appears to have come to a full stop. Delenda est. Delenda est.