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Why we can’t have nice things: A Gender Week post-mortem

One of the biggest debates within feminism has always been how we define, how we describe, the word ‘gender’. One of the biggest problems with that debate has always been that, for a significant minority of feminists, there is none; only a dogmatic assertion that “feminism solved this long ago once and for all”.

Feminist Times has, as a part of its mission statement, a commitment to listening and giving space to all sections of feminism as long as the discussion remains empathetic and respectful. Part of the background to that commitment is a radical scepticism about the idea that anything has been permanently settled; that any section of feminism has a final and definitive answer to the intellectual challenge that feminism poses to those values of patriarchy and kyriarchy, in which we were all brought up and which surround us every day.

It can be argued, in fact, that any premature assumption of a definitive position’s correctness is almost certainly a hindrance; dogmatic certainty on the part of any section of the community about anything except their own personal experience is going to be problematic when it comes to discussion.

I’ve taken flak from my own trans community over Gender Week. Some trans people feel that, given our embattled status, abstract disscussion of issues around gender is an indulgence we cannot afford. Personally, I don’t for a second think that discussion of gender can ever risk the validation of trans identity; the arguments on our side, and our own diverse experiences of gender, are too strong for anyone to discount them except if they absolutely refuse to listen.

It is, though, the case that a lot of trans people are very vulnerable and a wide-ranging public discussion of gender is going to risk triggering their own doubts and fears and memories of bad times; perhaps neither I nor Feminist Times should have been prepared to take that risk.

In spite of long experience to the contrary, I and we thought that the time had finally come when it would be possible to have a serious discussion that would start the process of healing the rifts within feminism. The editors commissioned a number of pieces from which a respectful and intelligent discussion might have emerged.

Only it did not. Instead, the comments on a number of the pieces, and not only those written by trans people, became unpleasantly abusive in the face of the best efforts of the editors to moderate them. There was little good faith in many of them – well known trans-exclusionary radical feminists did not reveal their preconceptions or even used aliases and sock-puppet accounts.

What happened on the Twitter #genderweek hashtag was even worse. The writers* for that issue of Feminist Times were subjected to unpleasant hate speech including, but not restricted to, constant misgendering. I saw only some of the attacks on me – these were not for the most part serious discussion of my arguments but instead anonymous personal abuse based on my age and looks.

It’s now abundantly clear that serious feminist discussion can’t take place on Twitter without it being hi-jacked for hate speech. I know some people feel that the terms cis and TERF are, or have the potential to become, derogatory; I didn’t see those people complaining when my photo was tweeted with abusive comments.

I had hoped we could have an adult discussion of gender and what we mean by the word; clearly I was culpably naïve and I apologise for thinking that certain women involved in that hashtag are capable of respectful discussion between equals.

Roz Kaveney is a member of the Feminist Times Editorial Board. She is a trans woman, novellist, poet, critic and activist.

Following Gender Week, we have revised our editorial comment policy, which is now published here.

*Editor’s note: We asked Roz to write a personal perspective on Gender Week, as a member of our editorial board, as someone who was involved in helping us plan the week, and as someone who received criticism both from radical feminists and trans feminists for her involvement. We are, however, aware that abuse throughout the week – particularly on Twitter – was directed at many of our contributors, not only those who are trans.

We don’t believe, as Roz says, that any one side has a final and definitive answer to the complexities that feminism throws up. Because of this we are committed to respectful, empathic discussion of the differences within feminism, and the varying experiences of those within the movement, and our content will always reflect this. The constructive discussions of our Gender Week content that did take place on Twitter were regretfully at times almost completely drowned out by repetitive and abusive comments from a small minority of individuals.

– Sarah Graham, Deputy Editor.

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#GenderWeek: Respectful discussion is possible

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

Discussing “gender” is one of the most contentious topics in popular feminist discourse. Many misunderstandings can be attributed to different usage of the same words; and to make matters worse, many of us have been traumatised during previous attempts to engage in political conversation about gender. The history between trans advocates and gender critical feminists is extremely hostile. Personal insults, condescending dismissals, and even threats of violence are not unusual.

Late last year, we were both invited to participate in a new Facebook group that aimed to bring radical feminists and trans advocates together to discuss gender. Unfortunately, critical analysis of gender was not tolerated and we were both quickly removed from the group. This was not entirely surprising, but we were disappointed as the idea excited us.

Gender discussion rulesWe wanted to continue the conversation, so we decided to start our own Facebook group. We decided that the new group should be ‘open’ in Facebook terms, so anyone with a Facebook account could read what was being discussed even if they didn’t want to participate. Secondly, anyone would be allowed to join the group no matter what their political opinions—liberal, conservative, anarchist, libertarian, or N/A. The only rule was to engage respectfully and in good faith with the other members. It would be a grand experiment! But still, we weren’t very optimistic about its potential longevity.

We were clear that the point of the group isn’t to change people’s views, but to build a greater understanding between everyone, and hopefully build some bridges.

In just four months, Discussing Gender Critical and Gender Identity has ballooned to more than 600 members. We currently have four moderators, all of whom are feminists and one of whom is a trans woman.

Generating discussion of gender is not difficult, but maintaining harmony in the group is our greatest challenge. Towards that end, we have also developed some very basic ground rules regarding language. By preempting some common stumbling blocks to discussion of gender, we’ve been able to sustain unusually long and interesting conversations. For example, in order to avoid the minefield of misgendering, our group policy is to use preferred pronouns or the plural-neutral they/their. Predictably, we’ve been criticized by some on both sides of the table, but despite occasionally removing a member from the group, we have had surprisingly few problems. As one of our trans members commented:

“I think this group is the first concrete step leading to a better understanding between trans people and gender critical feminists. Understanding does not mean agreement, but it can show that finally there is dialogue.”

From this first step, we have already begun challenging the idea that there are only a few views around key gender issues. There is a wide diversity of thought among trans people as well as among feminists; and the group provides a forum to explore these ideas. We have also begun discussing whether there are any areas of broad agreement or commonality within the group. Ultimately, we would like to identify issues that we can potentially work together on, leading to joint trans and feminist political activism.

We invite anyone who is interested in moving beyond hostility and into creative solutions to join our conversation on Facebook.

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#GenderWeek: Truce! When radical feminists and trans feminists empathise

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We wanted to explore the ground between the polarised, entrenched positions in the so-called “TERF-war”. Radical feminists on one pole, trans-inclusionary feminists and trans activists on the other. The disputed territory being women-only space, language and the ever changing legal framework surrounding gender.

Entrenchment leads to stalemate. Stalemate is no friend to progress.

We want to know how feminism can progress when it comes to these gender debates. Can we stop hurling abuse and start listening? What would happen if people in these polarised positions began to empathise with each other? Is it possible to find common ground and start building towards a shared vision of the future? Fighting common enemies?

We asked Finn Mackay, a radical feminist, and Ruth Pearce, a trans feminist, if they would help us explore the place between the poles, this no (wo)man’s land, with some radical empathy.

Finn Mackay:

The disagreements between some feminist theory and the growing movement for trans rights and recognition perhaps began most publically with Janice Raymond’s 1980 book The Transexual Empire and Sandy Stone’s famous riposte in The Empire Strikes Back. The main two critiques were that Raymond denied a history for trans people and stated that trans people are not ‘real’ men or women.

It’s not difficult to see why the latter would cause offence, and indeed Raymond does suggest this in her book. Mainly she is concerned with critiquing the medical industry and its pathologisation of gender in the clinics of the 1970s, which she sees as charm schools for gender stereotyping.

Raymond does not deny a transgender history; she is not naïve to the fact that gender rules are different around the world and are often flouted. However, Raymond argues that it wasn’t until legal and medical advancements that it became possible to talk about the identity of transexual.

This highlights an important distinction between gender and sex. I am not an essentialist; I believe gender is a social construct – by which I mean masculinity, femininity, camp, butch, high femme or androgynous, for example. Sex describes the biological features of our bodies, such as genitalia, reproductive capacity and hormones. In patriarchy of course, sex equals rank and gender roles are used, promoted and policed so that sex rank is obvious and unequivocal.

I don’t believe gender is natural, fixed or innate, but made and not born. It is made by all the stereotypes around us about how men and women are supposed to look, act and dress. Everyone works hard at their gender, it does not come naturally. Men and women work to live up to narrow and impossible gender ideals; they diet and spend vast amounts on cosmetics and plastic surgery. In that way we are all performing gender, and it is difficult to say if anyone is a ‘real’ man or woman.

Therefore, I don’t believe that trans people are any less ‘real’ men and women than anyone else, and I don’t believe trans women are ‘men’. I respect self-definition and use the pronouns individuals identify as; I would never refer to trans women as ‘he’ or to trans men as ‘she’. I agree that women-only spaces should be open to all women, including trans women. However, I also respect the right of all oppressed groups to self-organise. For example, recently a mixed feminist conference in Manchester held a workshop on girlhood sexual abuse which was open only to women assigned female at birth. I do not think it was right that the conference was attacked as a result.

I do not agree with the term ‘cis’ and do not use it. It suggests that all non-trans people are gender normative Stepford wives, which is far from the case. I do not get read as a woman in many daily interactions and experience harassment and violence as a result. I do not have the privilege of not being questioned about my sex and gender in the street, in passport control or in interactions with health services. I also do not believe that being categorised as female in a patriarchal world can ever be seen as a privilege, and the facts of sexual violence, marginalisation and poverty bear that out.


Ruth Pearce:

In you, I see the girls who spat in my face as I walked home from school.
In me, you see every man who has ever treated you like a lesser being.
In you, I see the boys who always wanted to pick a fight.
In me, you see someone who just won’t listen.
In you, I see my father, a man I’ve always considered to be wise and thoughtful, telling me that I’ll be outed by the press and kicked out of university for using the women’s toilets.
In me, you see a forceful male penetration of women’s spaces.
In you, I see a thousand tabloid headlines screaming “tranny”.
In me, you see a blind adherence to the oppressive system of binary gender.
In you, I see the doctor who tells me what I can and can’t do with my body.
In me, you see the stooge of a patriarchal medical system.
In you, I see how friends who have been beaten or raped were told that they brought it on themselves.
In me, you see a systematic desire to control and define womanhood.
In you, I see a systematic desire to control and define womanhood.

My truth and your truth are both derived from a fierce feminism, but somehow remain diametrically opposed.  Why is it that we disagree so much over the meaning of my body, over the meaning of your lived experience, over the existence of feminist events that exclude trans women?

I would tell you that my subconscious sex, the mental matrix that somehow marks the flesh I expect to see and feel when I behold myself, maps snugly onto the body I have inhabited since undergoing hormone therapy and genital reconstruction. I would tell you that for the last six years I have been happy and at ease with myself in a way I could never have been before.

I would tell you that yes, I agree that gender is a social construct which ascribes hegemonic power to the masculine. I would tell you that I, like you, am forced to negotiate a society where we cannot simply reject gender because we are constantly gendered by others. The body I inhabit, the things I enjoy, the manner in which I communicate, the clothes I prefer to wear all fit better into the artificial category of “woman” than the artificial category of “man”.

I would tell you that I too am subject to sexism and misogyny in many of their vile forms. My transness does not spare me. I would further tell you that I have experienced worse for being trans than for being a woman, although such unpleasant experiences have been limited by the privileges that come with my class background and the colour of my skin.

I would tell you that I believe in the importance of women’s spaces. I would argue that no group of women should be rejected from such a space.

I would tell you that I am a woman because I identify as a woman and because I move through the world as a woman. That I reject outdated ideals of “appropriate” female behaviour. That I rage against sexism and misogyny, and fight alongside my sisters for equality, for liberation, for choice.

I would tell you that this is my truth, and that there is no universal trans truth. I would ask you to acknowledge the diversity and complexity of trans truths.

And you would tell me your truth. You would tell me of the pain that comes from growing up as a girl and then living as a woman in a patriarchal world. You would tell me that I can never know what this is like, that I will always be male, that my chromosomes and life experience cannot be erased. You would tell me that you have a right to organise without me. That I should just leave you alone.

And our argument could roll on for a long time. I might draw upon the wisdom of black feminist thinkers to argue that there is no universal experience of womanhood. And you might respond that I, nevertheless, will always have with me the privileges that come with being raised as a boy. And I would say yes, I accept that, but seek to acknowledge and check this in the same way I seek to acknowledge and check my other privileges, and moreover this intersects complexly with the oppression I experienced growing up as a trans girl, learning to hate myself and unable to access hegemonic forms of masculinity.

Where does this leave us?

At the end of the day, we have to draw a line in the sand. So you read and write and share your critiques of my existence, and attend your conferences from which I am explicitly excluded. But I necessarily object to writings and events that actively oppose or undermine my liberation: articles that turn me into a joke or demean my struggle for survival, activists who out vulnerable children, keynote speakers who say that we are all rapists and call for the abolition of gender clinics.

I am left with no choice but to actively oppose the public manifestation of opinions that will do harm to myself, to my friends, to my trans sisters, to my trans brothers, to my queer and/or non-gender-specific trans siblings.

I oppose you not because I hate you, and certainly not because I oppose feminism. I oppose you because you would cause me harm.

And in doing so, you believe that I cause you harm.

And so the dance goes on.

Ruth’s piece is adapted from her 2012 blog post, which you can read here.

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#SexIndustryWeek: My enemy’s enemy is my friend

These days, being trans is almost respectable. We have laws on our sides that mandate a large measure of equality with other women and men, even if those laws still leave behind those trans people who don’t entirely identify with binary gender, and even though there are a variety of loopholes for those who wish to discriminate. It’s still legal to exclude trans women who have been raped from a rape crisis centre; a number of feminist journalists and academics will still argue that self-defence of the trans community against transphobic hate speech is censorship. Compared, though, to twenty – let alone thirty-five years ago, when I transitioned – we have a serious measure of acceptance.

For many of those years, trans people were left out in the cold by the movement for greater lesbian and gay equality, and by the women’s movement. We were told that we were sick and deluded, or that we needed to wait our turn, that we should sit still and not frighten the horses. We remember how that felt, to be excluded and betrayed by our brothers and our sisters. It is primarily for this reason that I, at least, will never ever consent to forget the rights of sex workers – let alone to work for policies that make their lives harder, and to call that betrayal of vulnerable people ‘feminism’, or ‘progressivism’.

I was told so often, before and after I transitioned, that I was a dupe of a multi-million dollar patriarchal conspiracy of psychiatrists and surgeons, what Janice Raymond called “the transsexual empire” – to weaken feminism by introducing people like me as Trojan Horses. More recently, I’ve been accused of being part of a Trans Cabal – we all joke that we have an undersea volcano lair protected by robot sharks, because that’s about as plausible a claim, but we’re actually just a bunch of people who support each other on Facebook and Twitter.

When I and a number of my cis woman friends started Feminists Against Censorship, it was claimed that we too were being paid by the Mafia, or the CIA, or the patriarchy. I know that wasn’t true because I was helping with the accounts. Some of us were professional writers and a few of us did layout, or were cartoonists, so we produced some shit hot press releases – but we did it all on a shoestring. It may be, of course, that people who actually have funding and don’t have available talent might, instead of accusing other people of being on the take, wonder why all the talent is on the other side.

So I am not going to swallow the argument that people who argue for sex worker rights are dupes and pimps, paid lackeys of the multi-billion dollar sex industry. My first thought rather is: when are these people going to get some new material? When will they stop reacting to disagreement with stab-in-the-back conspiracy theories? And one of the reasons I say ‘these people’ is because it so often is the same people – intelligent feminists who think that they know what is best for other people and want to introduce laws to make that knowledge compulsory. When people praise Scandinavian policies on sex work I remember that, until very recently, Sweden demanded that trans people be sterilised before they could apply for a recognition of civil status.

One reason, then, for solidarity between trans people and sex workers is the recognition that we share the same well-intentioned enemies. In large parts of the third world, and some American states, sex workers and trans people are subjected to the same policies of arbitrary detention without trial, forced rehabilitation on work camps, compulsory health checks, rape, torture and murder by the police and paramilitaries. Of course, one of the reasons for that is that, especially in the third world, trans people are still the victims of the massive social exclusion that harmed older generations here and have few options apart from sex work. Trans people and sex workers – and in particular sex workers who are trans – are massively stigmatised, rejected, and put in harm’s way.

Sections of feminism – notably Janice Raymond – are responsible for some of that; Raymond collaborated with the churches and rightwing members of Congress during the Reagan era to remove federal funding from trans medical care. This meant that young, poor, working-class trans people, especially trans women of colour, had few other options than sex work if they were going to afford medical care, often resorted to dangerous quacks for surgical work, and were less likely to be able to practice safe sex. And many died and are dying and will die.

Austerity and cuts in health service provision, and student loans, mean that young people – trans and cis – resort to sex work to survive in modern Britain. Prohibitionist policies will make their lives harder, as Raymond’s attacks on trans people did – and advocates of those policies will end up with blood on their hands. No one is saying that sex work is always safe, or denies the existence of trafficking – for sex work as for domestic work and sweat-shops – but in the former case the important thing is to make it as safe as possible, rather than make clients more dangerous by criminalising them; and in the latter case, the important thing is to stamp down on all slavery rather than separate one area of slavery out for special concern.

As a young trans woman in the sixties and seventies, delaying full transition into my late twenties through fear of social exclusion, I learned part of my feminism in the university and part on the streets. The first people who helped me were streetwalkers, trans and cis; the first time I was raped, it was a policeman from the Vice Squad, in the back of his car. My politics of support for other trans women and for sex workers are a crucial part of my feminism, which is about solidarity and support for other women’s experience and choices – not about a small group of policy formers, politicians and journalists telling other women what to do.

Roz Kaveney is a member of the Feminist Times Editorial Board. She is a trans woman, novellist, poet, critic and activist.

Photo: Feminist Fightback

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Tatchell: “Macho athletes are timid & silent in their collusion against human rights”

Feminist Times contributor Bernadette Hyland interviews Peter Tatchell, as part of our series throughout LGBT History Month – including Dr Finn Mackay’s brief herstory of lesbian feminism, Obama sends lesbians to Sochi, ‘Girls’: Lesbians in Russia, and Many Russias: Sochi’s Absurdist Olympics.

Peter Tatchell is best known as a campaigner for LGBT rights but has also worked on a wide range of national and international issues over the past four decades. He sees himself very much as a human rights campaigner: “For me LGBT rights are just one part of a broad spectrum of human rights.”

Born in Australia, Tatchell’s political awakening came at an early age. “I was 11 years old in 1963 and heard the news about the racist bombing of a black church in Alabama, where four girls about my age were killed,” he says. “I remember being horrified that anyone could do such a thing and it prompted my interest and support of the black civil rights movement.” More than

50 years later, Tatchell believes that the Left in Britain can learn from the successes made by groups such as the Peter Tatchell Foundation, Outrage and Stonewall. “The struggle for LGBT equality is one of the most successful law reform campaigns in British history,” he says.

“It has been achieved by a combination of parliamentary and extra-parliamentary activity. Suffragette style protest by groups such as Outrage have been instrumental in putting LGBT rights on the political agenda, which has allowed more suffragist style groups like Stonewall to get a hearing within government and promote legislative reform.”

Most recently, this month’s Winter Olympic Games in Russia have seen Tatchell and the LGBT community take on one of the world’s most formidable leaders in Vladimir Putin. “The hosting of the Winter Olympics has been an own goal for Putin and Medvedev,” he believes, and has likened the position of gay people in Russia to the anti-semitism stirred up by the Nazis in the early 1930s.

He feels, however, that their campaign has forced Putin onto the defensive: “He has repeatedly been forced to respond to defend his government. We have focussed international attention on issues that are kept hidden, including corruption, anti-gay laws and the suppression of free speech.”

Tatchell has challenged well-known public figures in the LGBT community about their stance on human rights, most noticeably Clare Balding, who is commentating on the Sochi Olympics for the BBC. “I am not surprised by Stephen Fry and Paul O’Grady speaking out, but she has been muted in her comments and lots more personalities could have spoken out,” he says.

What has particularly shocked him has been the lack of response from British athletes at Sochi: “Not one single Olympian has made the slightest gesture towards the support of gay Russians – there have been no rainbow flags. These macho, go-getting athletes are timid and silent in their collusion against human rights.”

For Tatchell, human rights are much wider than any one particular issue. As a campaigner for the rights of LGBT people, he can only see this happening within a context of all people living in a happier, more liberated society.

Ultimately, he believes that liberation will only come if society itself is transformed. He is disillusioned with the mainstream parties, who “accept the neo-liberal consensus of society”, and he sees little hope in the Left and trade union movement.

“Much of the Left is in retreat. They are very defensive with little proactive campaigning. All their campaigns are defensive – against the Bedroom Tax and against the closure of A&E departments.” He feels that they have little to offer in terms of any vision of a different and better society.

Defining himself as a green socialist, Tatchell supports the Green New Deal and feels there is a need for a campaign calling for economic democracy, which he says is as important as political democracy. He believes his “vision for a new and different society” would be best enacted by a coalition between the greens and the Left, which would offer people a future that would transform society.

“The red and green traditions embody essential values and ideas for liberation and the survival of humanity,” he says. Bemoaning the lack of imagination within the Left’s campaigning, Tatchell believes they are too bogged down in organising marches, rather than offering solutions such as a wealth tax to challenge the austerity agenda.

The need to totally transform society is echoed in his views on same-sex marriage, which he will discuss at the Feminist Times February members’ event: Is same sex marriage just a distraction? “I have always seen marriage in terms of the feminist critique of sexism and patriarchy,” he says. “I am not a fan of marriage but the ban on same sex marriage is homophobic discrimination and it is important to fight it.”

He has his own ideas about how society could be organised in a form of marriage-lite, proposing an alternative to both marriage and civil partnerships called a civil community pact, allowing people to nominate any “significant other” as next of kin or beneficiary in death. “It would allow all people to pick and mix from a menu of rights and responsibilities to create a partnership agreement,” he adds.

If you want to continue the debate with Peter Tatchell, come along to our next members’ event on Wednesday 26 February: Is same sex marriage just a distraction? as part of LGBT History Month. Peter Tatchell will be joined be fellow panellists: Roz Kaveney – trans woman, novellist, poet, critic and activist; Gemma Rolls-Bentley & Danielle Wilde – currently blogging their wedding plans for Stylist magazineZoe Stavri – feminist blogger; chaired by broadcaster Ruth Barnes (BBC, Amazing Radio)

We’ll be asking: Why would same sex couples want to get married anyway? Is same sex marriage just about making LGBT couples more heteronormative? What should the priorities be for the LGBT community and LGBT feminism? If you want to be part of the discussion, please join us. Click here for details. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Jo Clifford

The inbetweener

So I’m on my way home from supper with a friend when a man comes up to me and says: “‘Scuse me madam”. A bit drunk like and absolutely about to ask me for some money.

Then he looks again and starts to apologise. “I should let you kick me up the arse so hard”, he says abjectly. Over and over again.

And I have no idea what he could possibly mean.

Until it dawns on me that, after addressing me as a woman, he then came to understand that I am “really a man”.

That this is why he felt this compulsive need to apologise – because he felt in the core of his masculine being that by addressing me as a woman he had insulted me. And to call a man a woman is the worst insult of all.

This was quite early in the painful process of losing my male identity. It taught me that our culture’s given sense of male superiority was something that, in spite of myself, I too had internalised and that was the main reason why over the years I had felt so profoundly ashamed to want to be a woman.

It is why it matters for trans and cis women to be allies in feminism. Because we face the same enemies. It is also why, as my transition continued, so many people I encountered seemed to feel absolutely entitled to insult me as hurtfully as they pleased.

Why they would shout out:

“Hey look it’s a geezer!”. Cue for much group hilarity.

“Ugh look. It’s a man.” Cue for collective disgust.

“But you’re a man!” Cue for incredulous angry disbelief that I would stoop so low.

“Faggot!” Cue for generalised incoherent rage.

These days it’s all more friendly. Helpful, even. But always with a note of condescension in these men. An obvious assumption that I am clearly half-witted. I used to get angry, but now I understand: it’s because they are treating me as a female.

The surgeon was one of those. “Now dear, the psychiatrist tells me you’ve got to have a nasty operation” he told me, before I had the chance to say anything.

And then he started to write down my consent before I had time to reply. He was irritated when I said “no.”

Because no, I did not want gender reassignment surgery.

He crossed out what he’d written with an irritated sigh. These stupid women. “You’ll want the cosmetic operation then”.

And again, writing before I had the time to reply.

The cosmetic operation is a procedure to completely remove the scrotum and about 95% of the penis to create the appearance of female genitalia.

And no, I didn’t want that either. I wanted an orchidectomy. That’s the surgical term for castration, as if the male testicles were some kind of exotic flower.

More crossings out. A paper angrily thrown in the bin.

A furious scribble on a new sheet, and then some angry directions as to where I was supposed to take it. “You’ll be back within a year,” he shouted after me.

But I’ve not been. Of course not.

After years of soul-searching and years of dealing with the humiliating and malfunctioning procedures of the gender bureaucracy, I absolutely knew my own mind. I knew it in the marrow of my bones.

Not that I in any way criticise the full gender re-assignment operation. It’s a well-documented fact that for the vast majority of trans* women it is hugely successful and it saves many lives. But it is hugely invasive, painful, and carries the risk of a good many nasty complications. I am immensely fortunate to have needed so simple, so quick, and so relatively painless a procedure.

It joins me to much older, and maybe wiser, traditions: the two spirit people of India, Kathoey of Thailand, Waria of Indonesia, Muxe of Mexico, Fa’fa’une of Hawaii, Shamen of Siberia. These are traditions much more ancient than our Judeo-Christian gender binary, which Christian missionaries did their best to exterminate in the times of European imperialism. They failed to do so because they are, I suspect, much more in tune with the way we humans actually are.

When people sometimes say, “but you’re not really a woman”, I never argue back.

It’s such a dull question.

Because I can live like one and be so much happier.

In the process I’m beginning to understand that what we call ‘transition’ is more, even, than the perilous and profound crossing of gender boundaries.

It is perhaps something we all need to do: the shedding of old skin. The discovery of our true selves.


Jo Clifford is a playwright and member of the Feminist Times Editorial Board. She has just completed the book of “The Gospel According to Jesus Queen of Heaven”. She will be collaborating with Chris Goode as deviser/performer in his new work “Albemarle” in October and has been commissioned to create a new play with MA students of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. More information and her blog on http://www.teatrodomundo.com

Photo credit: Yaz Norris, Yaznorrisphotography.co.uk

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