When it was announced that Julie Bindel had been shortlisted for the Stonewall Journalist of the Year award in 2008, the trans-activists went wild. Julie had written an article four years earlier in which they claimed she’d made some transphobic comments. Even though she’d apologised, they demanded Stonewall drop her from the shortlist.
It has recently been announced that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has issued new guidelines that transgender athletes should be allowed to compete in the Olympics and other international sporting events in their reassigned “gender” without undergoing sex reassignment surgery.
The main physical restriction the new guidelines place on males who transgender will be that their testosterone level must be below a certain level for one year prior to the event they are competing in.
This means that transwomen who retain their male sex organs (testes and penis) but who have some hormone treatment to reduce their testosterone level for a year will be able to compete with women (by which I mean biological females who were raised as girls).
Again and again I hear people criticise women generally, and feminists in particular, for not accepting transwomen as “real” women and for “excluding” them. Trans people are oppressed, they say, and these so-called exclusionary behaviours and attitudes create the dogma behind this oppression just as racism is the dogma behind the oppression of Black people. It is misguided, they say, and dangerous and is called transphobia, which makes you, me, anyone who doesn’t agree with them, a bigot who deserves to go to hell with all fascists and racists.
But when feminists try to explain that of course they oppose all discrimination and violence against trans people, but there are issues that are complicated that we need to look at, discuss, understand, it seems that our accusers won’t listen. (Not that this is a surprise – not listening to women is, after all, a major characteristic of male supremacy.) In this essay I try to explain some of these issues by drawing on my own personal experiences in the feminist understanding that the personal is political – that patriarchy is a political system and it operates in the personal sphere. And without examining the personal sphere, we cannot fully understand the system. I have changed names and minor details because my points are political and I do not want to identify or mean to criticise any of the other individuals involved.
1. The sleepover
Some time ago a progressive organisation I belong to held a weekend event in London and asked members who live there to offer overnight accommodation to people from out of town. I offered my spare room and shortly afterwards I got an email saying that someone called Frankie would be staying and would contact me to make the arrangements. Sure enough, Frankie phoned and asked if it would be possible to stay on the Friday night as well as the Saturday. I agreed and gave him my address and directions. After I put the phone down, I wondered if it had been a mistake to not specify a woman. Never mind, I thought, my housemates will be there – three of us to one of him. What can go wrong?