talking about Teh Trans

the RCPsych Lesbian and Gay Special Interest Group have a natter

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.

Thus Az Hakeem, one of the invited speakers, who first came to my attention as a signatory of this letter to the Guardian in 2002, deprecating the  European Court’s judgement on the Goodwin case:

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.

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17 Responses to talking about Teh Trans

  1. Megan says:

    Loved the article as usual, it’s really scary that Hakeem works at the Portman Clinic.
    Does he have any say in their practices for trans children? If so that is even scarier and may explain some of their opinions on blockers.

    I read some of those comments on Natashas peice; but had to stop as I tend to get upset with how nasty cissexual’s can be taking their privavages for granted and having a go when they can see no point in someone standing up for who they are it it has no affect on them.

  2. misswonderly says:

    Thank you, Dru, for this very thoughtful and balanced blog. If anybody asks me what this whole sorry episode has been all about I’ll be pointing them in your direction.

  3. Deborah Harvey says:

    This sound horribly familiar. About 15 years ago I attended a psychiatric conference on autism. Basically, their premise was that autism is caused by inadequate parenting, in particular poor mothering. And there was no Get Out Of Jail Card for those of us who had ‘normal’ children as well as autistic ones, either – it was still our fault because we had failed to treat our children equally.

    It was very painful to witness the exhumation of arguments which had been staked and buried decades previously, but of greater concern was the implications for those parents and children who have the misfortune to be treated by these individuals – just like Az Hakeem’s charges. If they had autistic offspring/were trans people themselves, they would soon change their tune. As it is, the cultivation of a bit of imagination and empathy would be a step in the right direction.

  4. Christine Beckett says:

    Nice one, hon… 🙂

    Though I am not convinced that Bindel and Hakeem were merely “invited” to the conference by chance or to ensure a lively debate. I believe that their presence was necessary because the conference had a specific, predetermined agenda and outcome.

    There is some evidence (albeit anecdotal and circumstantial) to suggest that Bindel was actually one of the driving forces behind it. We need to dig further and look into that LGB group in the Royal College.

    Many people believe Bindel is merely a bad journalist who likes to make a name for herself by writing contentious articles. She is much more than that. She is a campaigner and an activist. She spends a LOT of time networking and moving and shaking, in order to influence people and change policies.

    I think it might be naive and dangerous to take the view that this incident was merely another relatively minor case of bad judgement, along the lines of the Vauxhall Tavern one.


  5. I have to say Dru, this was so hilarious that it almost beats the Gender Trender blog on this very subject to become my favourite blog this year. It’s not quite there in terms of general laugh-making, but your political stance is closer to mine so I’m going to give you more hugs for this. *hugs*

    Granted, it may not be that hard, but you’ve made a certain someone look like a prize plum.

    That picture (and the captions) is a total hoot. After all this earnestness it was just what I needed. Well done!

  6. Dru says:

    I don’t think he works with children, Megan… actually, I’ve been looking Az Hakeen up and his position seems to have evolved from The Emperor’s New Clothes, which he appears to distance himself from…
    …must find out more..

    Thank you, Miss W! I feel like a bit of a latecomer to the party, but we do what we can.

    Yes, Deborah; I’ve still got a hangover from the days of the culture of deference, so that when I see a title like RCPsych, or know that someone is a psychiatrist, I assume that they are wise, intelligent, and highly-motivated. Whereas the reality is that they may be just a bunch of dim jobsworths, parroting half-understood ideas. It’s like when I first read Julie Bindel’s thoughts on gender and assumed it was a parody of student politics.

    You may well be right there, Christine. You wrote well on this over on your blog, I saw.

    Thank you, Paris! Have this hot cross bun on the house!

    • misswonderly says:

      The link you give to Hakeem’s website is indeed very interesting. I wonder if anybody knows how long this has been up on his site because I looked a month ago and never saw it there. He states:

      “For many years now I have moved away from what appeared in my early published work as appeared in ‘A Case of The Emperors’ New Clothes’. The reader will notice qualitative shifts successively up to my latest paper ‘Parallel Processes’ which gives an up to date and accurate account of the my specialist work in this area and the issues clinicians and institutions face in this work.”

      In plain-speak this would appear to be stating that things he wrote about transgender in the past were crap. Given the extremely offensive nature of these pieces, it might prove a lot more effective in winning hearts and minds if he did simply come out and say: “What I wrote then was crap”.

      I don’t know the man. I haven’t read his recent papers. A lot of what he goes on to state is very similar to what I and many others in the trans community have been saying for years now. There is a desperate need for more experienced counselling and psychotherapy for trans people and for their families. There need to be other paths explored and described for those for whom medical therapy is not the desired or necessary option. I wonder if he has ever recommended any of the people who come to see him to read “Becoming Drusilla”. Hakeem writes:
      “… my aim for [patients] is to explore what gender means to them and my encouragement for them to challenge and subvert normative binary frameworks of gender interpretation in themselves or which they perceive within society and replace this with an individually tailored authentic gender identity which they feel suits them.”
      Isn’t that what yours and Richard’s book is about?

      If Hakeem is as reasonable as he makes out then the question arises in my mind, why did he and the RCPsych not simply arrange a meeting with those protesting this conference where he could have apologised for his past errors, explained his current position and allayed their fears?

      In my view the RCPsych have come out of this incident very badly indeed. Such a dialogue could so easily have been facilitated. Who knows Hakeem might have come out of it smelling of roses although sadly I regret things long ago went too far for this to have been possible where the other non-trans journalist speaker was concerned.

      I’ve heard talk of another conference being arranged, with the trans community being consulted from the outset. I hope Dr Hakeem will be invited. I for one would be very interested in his current thinking. There have been a few people whose first contact with the trans community has been marked by disdain due to bafflement and lack of information but who have over time improved their knowledge and changed their views. I’ve never known them be treated with other than heartfelt admiration from the trans community for being big enough to acknowledge they were wrong.

      • Charlie says:

        I’m glad it wasn’t just me! That web site seems to have sprung up like a midnight mushrump since the fuss about this conference first started.

        I’d still like to know how his views have changed since the “earlier”(i.e. anything up to 2008) articles. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to his later work, and there don’t seem to be any accounts out there of what the differences are between then and now.

  7. Christina A says:

    Fabulously witty blog, Dru, as usual. As refreshing and clear as a glass of chilled spring water!


  8. Can I just check, the ‘teh’ – that came from a typo somebody made on twitter whey making about point, right? I saw that tweet. Or does is have a slightly different meaning, like it represents stupidity or irreverance? I can’t explain why I find it funny but I know do.

    *looks stupid*

    • misswonderly says:

      Along with pwn, teh is a standard feature of leetspeak.[3] Originating from the common typo, it has become conventionalized in a variety of contexts. It is often used ironically,[4] and can be used to mock someone’s lack of “techie” knowledge or skills, as an insult, or to reinforce a group’s elitism;[2] cf. eye dialect. It is frequently used to denote mock ignorance of over-used and over-determined concepts (e.g., “long live teh Patriarchy”)

      • In kind of sort of guessed that already, but could never have expressed it in those terms. Good old wikipedia eh. It always lays things out as they are and explains things to simply. The only thing I have not been able to get my head round – even with wiki’s assistance – is chaos theory. I just don’t get it.

  9. whey?

    *looks even more stupid*

  10. Dru says:

    “whey”? indeed 🙂

    Miss W hits nail upon head; my take on Teh Trans is as an ironic parodying of a not-very-bright person talking about us. Though a young correspondent corrected me- apparently, Da Yoot would probably actually say ‘Teh Tranz’. Well, OMG!

  11. Danny Swindells says:

    Hi Dru, I was a patient of Dr Az Hakeem early last year, so I’ve got some insight into his current position. You said you’ve never spoken to anyone that was a patient of his, so thought my feedback might be of some use.

    I quit seeing him after just two sessions because he stressed how many trans people regret altering their bodies. I told him I’d spent thousands on laser, and had been self-medding but was non-op (certainly not out of any love for that thing, but for other reasons, I digress…)

    He seemed pleased that I was non-op, but disappointed that I would consider orchiectomy. Basically, I think he wanted to try and encourage as many trans paitents as possible to not transition and just accept things how they are physically…

    At least overtly, he was accepting of my own gender identity, feeling deeply uncomfortable with the gender role of being a man, but essentially not feeling like I wanted to identify as a woman either, although I have seriously considered presenting as one, but think I’ve choosing a different path here, with an androgynous presentation. The whole inbetweeny, non-binary type trans stuff didn’t seem to phase him, so I think I got the sense he had more support for diverse trans identities than he did for any kind of physical transition!

    He tried to pull the whole ‘autogynophelia’ argument on me to explain my self-medding when I told him that I was attracted to women, which was a massive red flag to me, and one of the main reasons I stopped seeing him at The Priory (He was also ridiculously expensive!). I pointed out that I did find having some secondary female characteristics sexually appealing, but that so do most cis women, and noone tells them it’s just a fetish! Plus I think I said that the whole theory also didn’t hold up for me since I’m attracted to men as well…Oopsie, think they forgot the bisexuals! Whoops! But my main point was that I suffer from persistent body dysphoria, like, all the time, so me taking HRT certainly wasn’t driven by the need for a sexual thrill. My male characteristics have seemed like foreign bodies to me since puberty. Persistence, consistence, and insistence right?

    I hope this report’s interesting to you in some way. Sorry if I’ve exposed some vast ignorance somewhere or whatever, I’ve got a lot to learn about teh tranz stuff, but you’re FB posts about this stuff have definitely helped me up my game a bit over the last few years thanks :).

    • Dru says:

      thank you, Danny! that was interesting and illuminating. …I do think that some people are more receptive to non-gendered or genderqueer identities than binary ones, perhaps because they don’t feel that their own bit of turf is being invaded- I heard Kate Bornstein on Woman’s Hour recently and zie seemed to go down very well indeed. -it should be shocking that he uses ‘autogynephilia’ as a model, though having read some of his stuff I’m afraid it isn’t at all surprising.

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