Sheila Jeffreys talks about how sex change is urged by gender bias. Looking at her take on lesbianism, it’s certainly clear that her political views couldn’t possibly blind her to the realities of trans people’s lives:
We do think… that all feminists can and should be lesbians. Our definition of a political lesbian is a woman-identified woman who does not fuck men. It does not mean compulsory sexual activity with women.
One of the refrains I read from radical feminists is that trans women are “not men” and are thus women by default just because that’s how the patriarchy works. I disagree with this perspective, but I find it illuminating that one can also find the view that “lesbian” can mean “a woman who does not fuck men,” rather than defined as women who are attracted to and form relationships with women.
In other words, this is a hypocritical stance, never mind what this practice has done to the lesbian community. But, that’s not the point right now, and I’m really writing this post to talk about Sheila Jeffreys’ complaints about why trans people transition for the wrong reasons.
CHIEF Justice Alastair Nicholson has done good work during his 16 years at the Family Court. The recent report on the serious problem of violence from male partners in child custody cases should cement his reputation as a judge who respects the human rights of women and children. But his decision last week to allow a 13-year-old girl to begin a sex change process breaks this tradition. Make no mistake: the decision violates the rights of this child.
The decision means that the girl named “Alex” will embark on a course of female hormone treatment to suppress menstruation, which can be expected to lead to male hormones at 16, and surgery when she reaches 18. The decision abrogates the child’s right to change her mind. And it removes her chance to grow up in a healthy female body and develop her identity long before an age when she’d be considered old enough to drive or drink alcohol.
She’s talking about Alex, a 13-year old who had to go through the Australian court system to receive treatments to stave off puberty long enough to give him a chance to live as a boy and ensure that this was the right course. Actual testosterone wouldn’t be administered until he was 16. Judge Nicholson approved the treatment for Alex, it did not mandate the treatment. First of all, if Alex did change his mind between 13 and 16, he could and have a normal puberty. If he changes his mind between 16 and 18, he could just stop testosterone and live a normal life. Surgery’s really the only irreversible step, but by then Alex would have five years to change his mind, and he’s still not required by the court to have surgery if he doesn’t want it.
The other thing here is that Sheila denies that trans people are often aware of our identities well before puberty. Alex’s wishes and identity here aren’t important to Ms. Jeffreys, however. Just her ability to have access to hormone replacement therapy. The phrase “healthy female body” is also standard transphobic panicmongering, as it introduces the idea that trans people seek to mutilate completely healthy bodies without bothering to acknowledge why we seek surgery, or even considering the dehumanizing language that “mutilate healthy bodies” entails. Once we have surgery, we’re mutilated, unhealthy creatures.
There are a number of cases in which men, for instance, have come to regret reassignment surgery later in life, and become reconciled to being heterosexual or gay men. But they cannot reclaim their penises and testes. Treating this child as a boy with all the authority of medicine at 13 won’t permit her to keep her options open. Male hormone treatment at 16 will narrow her options further, since it will begin irreversible physical changes and make it harder to change her mind. Both the female and male hormones may adversely affect her health.
Now Sheila descends into hyperbole. There are men who have sought hormones and surgery who made a mistake and later regretted it. “A number of cases” is an exaggeration, however, especially compared to the number of trans women who are happy with transition and surgical results. However, pointing out that the majority of men and women who undergo voluntary mastectomies or vaginoplasties are happy with the results would undermine Ms. Jeffreys’ crusade. She also erases those who successfully transition in their teens.
The medical profession’s belief in the efficacy of female hormones delivered as hormone replacement therapy, for instance, has been seriously undermined. Treatment with male hormones, which has to continue for life, has risks of liver damage and the shortening of her life.
This is more panicmongering. It is true that there are risks to hormone replacement therapy, which is why it’s standard practice now to conduct HRT under an endocrinologist’s supervision, or at least a GP who specializes in dealing with HRT. It’s normal to require blood tests and liver panel tests every three months, as well as to educate the patient as to the signs of harmful side effects, such as liver damage or (for estrogen) deep vein thrombosis. Because of the relatively high doses, they have to be and usually are monitored.
This decision was reached through an inquisitorial, rather than adversarial, process. Only those elements of the medical profession who support the idea of hormonal and surgical treatment for “gender identity disorder” (GID) were called by the court. They were relied on in reaching its decision as if they speak the “truth”. In fact, they should be seen as products of their time and the ideological biases of male dominance.
Indeed, their “truth” should be regarded as political opinion. They rely on the notion that there can be a “female” mind in a male’s body and vice versa. Their solution is to use chemicals, amputations, castrations and sterilisations to make the bodies of GID patients fit with their interpretation of what’s happening in the patient’s mind.
Sheila seems to believe that there’s a large body of medical evidence that contradicts the existence and treatment of gender identity disorder/transsexualism. Or rather, she believes her politics trump medical professionals who specialize in treating GID. That the idea of a female mind in a male’s body just isn’t real, solely because her theory says it can’t happen. Of course, her theory hasn’t been tested, simply asserted. It’s a theory based on the politics of destroying gender – and thus the patriarchy – and not on any scientific basis. It also erases the lived experiences and realities that trans people have to navigate on a daily basis. What we say about ourselves – what Alex says about himself is not to be considered, because it contradicts the theory.
Gender identity clinics can only diagnose the condition using the understandings of gender that exist at this time and place in history. Feminists like myself envisage a time beyond gender when there is no correct way to behave according to body shape. In such a world, it would not be possible to conceive of a gender identity clinic. The idea of GID is a living fossil that is, an idea from the time when there was considered to be a correct behaviour for particular body types.
Those with penises were supposed to play with particular toys and show “masculinity” such as desires to play aggressive team games and show little emotion. Those with vaginas were supposed to show “femininity” such as desires to be self-denying, do unpaid housework and wear high-heeled shoes. Gender identity clinics enforce correct gender behaviour through retraining, or through hormones and surgery. In this way, the medical profession can be seen to perform a political function as an arm of male dominance.
And here she establishes her theory: That GID diagnosis and treatment is based on the idea that there are correct ways to behave based on physical sex, and that those who do not fit the male norm must switch to female, and those who do not fit the female norm must switch to male. She’s just erased feminine gay men, drag queens, male transvestites, and butch lesbians in two paragraphs. People who – assuming they’re not taking on those identities to deal with transsexualism – violate those gender norms she’s talking about. This is because no one ever went to a doctor and said “I played with dolls as a boy, and I like to wear dresses, and I think this means I should be a woman.” If Sheila Jeffreys were to familiarize herself with the work of Harry Benjamin, she might discover there’s more going on here than her theory that transsexualism is about conforming to stereotypical gender roles and nothing more.
To be fair, it is true that medical professionals who specialize in gender have (and probably still do) focus on trans people’s ability to adopt stereotypical traits of femininity or masculinity to judge whether they’re really transsexual, but this is a problem with the system, not with the existence of transsexual people. This was a self-reinforcing process because the requirements for getting treatment were both strict and available to transsexual people seeking to transition. Since it was necessary to present one’s self as stereotypically masculine or (especially) feminine to get treatment, transsexual people did this. But that doesn’t mean that this was who we really were, it’s just what we had to do to get medical support for transitioning.
But this information is inconvenient to Sheila Jeffreys, who sees transsexualism as an enemy to be destroyed, not a real problem that we must accommodate.
The reasons why adult women seek reassignment surgery stem from the inequality of women, from male violence and from lesbian oppression. Women who have been abused in childhood seek reassignment so that they can escape the bodies in which they were abused and gain the status of the perpetrator in order to feel safe. Some want to gain privileges they perceive to be open to men. And many feel unable to love women in the bodies of women because of societal repression and hatred of lesbians.
Feminists seek to transform society so that male violence against women and girls will end and so that women may have equal rights and love women while remaining in their healthy female bodies.
But women who seek reassignment believe that a physical solution will solve their individual problems.
Rather, it compounds the damage. The Family Court should not be recommending this solution for a child.
She then goes on to make an assertion about trans men – that they seek SRS because women are not treated equally in society, that it’s all about escaping abuse and gaining status, becoming the oppressor. Again, she refuses to acknowledge trans men’s voices when they tell us who they are and why they transitioned, she has to frame transitioning in terms of patriarchal oppression.
This article compounds the damage – the damage that radical feminism inflicts on trans people every chance it gets. It erases us as individual human beings with a condition that requires treatment in order for us to live and thrive, and replaces us with ciphers that ape the “wrong” gendered behaviors and seek to transition to legitimately access those behaviors. It especially erases trans men and replaces them with women who can’t stand to be oppressed in patriarchal society.
Sheila Jeffreys should refrain from writing about trans people until she bothers to learn about us and engage us as people, not as tokens for her political prejudices.