I'm very bad at listening to what my body tells me, and a bit stubborn too (as the PCT seem to be finding out). The start of BBC Radio Four's "Hecklers" debate series, "Sex Change Surgery is Unnecessary Mutilation", was being recorded yesterday and Sylvia and I had booked in to be in then auidence. It also promised to be an opportunity for a bit of networking within the trans-community, so I was determined to go there, whether my body was reeling from the previous evening's surgery and wondering what the hell just hit it, or not.
So I stocked up on prescription painkillers, the same ones I was given post SRS, which my doctor continues to prescribe whenever I ask, and the two of us headed to London to meet up with some of the other people going to the debate before it opened.
On our way to the rendezvous point, a familiar voice called out behind us, "Hello there!". We turned round to see Dr Curtis out and about. He asked what we were doing in town and we said we were going to the debate, and asked if he was on his way there too. It turns out he wasn't - he was on his way running an STD clinic, I believe.
We met up with a bunch of transpeople and allies near the venue and chatted for a bit. Some I'd met before, some I hadn't, including Roz Kaveney, who seems like an absolutely fascinating person, and meeting her made me realise just how much of a neophyte I am when it comes to all this.
We arrived at the Royal Society of Medicine in plenty of time and were all ushered into their plush atrium area, where I saw lots of people whom I seem to be increasingly bumping into - I guess it's quite a small community really, but it's good that we turned out in force for this.
The debate was hosted by the BBC economics editor, Evan Davis, which I guess showed that it was Radio Four, as if it was Radio Two we'd have got his fellow Newsnight alumnus, Jeremy Vine instead.
The debate is called "Hecklers" because, as Evan Davis explained, it's "deliberately one-sided". They have someone speaking for a controversial position, and four expert panellists who are allowed to interject after a time and "Heckle". This time, the speaker for the motion was Julie Bindel, who along with David Batty seems to form the axis of transphobic reporting in The Guardian, which was responsible for some particularly trans-hostile and one-sided reporting during Russell Reid's GMC hearing. Particularly memorable is this article in which Bindel interviews someone called Claudia, a self-proclaimed trans-regretter.
Opposing were Dr Kevan Wylie, who runs the NHS GIC in Sheffield, and as far as NHS gender shrinks go seems to be one of the good guys, Professor Stephen Whittle of Press for Change and first transsexual president-elect of the HBIGDA/WPATH, Michelle Bridgman, a psychotherapist and project manager for the Gender Trust, and my boss for the voluntary work I'm doing for the Gender Trust helpline, and gay-rights activist Peter Tatchell, who has been a consistent supporter of trans rights and has managed to get some trans-positive stuff published by The Guardian.
Julie Bindell tried to paint a picture of transpeople as deluded individuals who are pushed into having "unnecessary" hormone therapy and surgery by some sort of medical industrial conspiracy. She wasn't terribly coherent to be honest, claiming to both fight against transphobia, but then simultaneously espousing a very transphobic point of view that the treatments which allow us to express our identity should not be available. I won't say too much about what was said in the debate, as it'll be on the radio on the 1st of August, but I suspect that anyone listening who isn't that familiar with the issues will proabbly just come away confused.
Towards the end, they took points from the audience. I wanted to make the point that Julie Bindel is confused about our motivations - if the medical community won't help us then we'll go and get what we need ourselves: hormones from the Internet and surgery abroad, and we'll do what it takes to pay for it. However, they didn't get to me. Most of the points taken were well made and pointed out problems with things Julie Bindel had said, as well as suggesting that there are some areas where we're not so far apart as she might imagine (disgust at the way gender roles in society oppress women - transition renders this in sharp focus, rage against a medical community that all too often seeks to control our lives and identities, etc.).
One commenter, however, came out strongly in support of Julie Bindell, and what she was saying sounded rather familiar. It was Claudia, the regretter, making an allegation that she was "pushed into surgery" after a single 45 minute appointment with Russell Reid 20 years ago, who she was sent to by a surgeon, and who she assumed she was seeing on the NHS, but was asked for money anyway. She stated that "her surgery didn't work", and that she "can't have sex".
The audience was asked by Evan Davis to show how many were supportive of Julie Bindel's position, and how many were not. The ratio seemed to be about 80:20 against, with much of the 80% being transpeople and allies, many of whom I recognised. The other 20% I can only guess at - they seemed to be clustered into a couple of groups in the auditorium and seemed to be keeping away from the transpeople present.
Afterwards, most people hung around in the atrium for drinks, and Julie Bindel was actually prepared to talk to lots of us. a number of people also spoke to Claudia, although I didn't. I know she was asked the obvious question - why didn't she detransition if she was unhappy being a woman. I believe (and I'm reporting this second hand) that she said that she wouldn't be able to pass, as she's too curvy or something, which frankly doesn't ring true - a detransitioned MTF can generally pass as male far better than an FTM can, especially if s/he has a haircut and is on testosterone. We do, after all, have bodies which started out male. Indeed, Claudia seemed less than credible generally, and I guess the General Medical Council agreed. Her allegations against Russell Reid are very serious, and would probably get him struck off if true, yet the GMC declined to use her as a witness in the case. Bindel's own spin on this, from her article is:
Claudia was keen to be a complainant, but the GMC ruled that due to minor inconsistencies in her recollection of the consultation with Reid 20 years previously, and because they had sufficient witnesses with similar complaints, she would not be included in the disciplinary case against Reid.
One wonders how much journalistic licence is being used there. When our specialists wish to indicate, in their diagnosis and referral letters, that we're basically competent and sane they write words to the effect that we "give a good account" of ourselves. Claudia didn't seem to be giving a very good account of herself yesterday.
Speaking to Julie Bindel was very interesting, however. Her tune was completely different when she was speaking off the record, and many of us chatted with her. She was very charming, very self effacing, and apparently very keen to paint the picture that she actually really cares about the issues transpeople have and wants to be our friend really. I must say that I found her charm just a little too much, and her insistence that in her position as a journalist, nobody really pays any attention to what she says and she can't really influence peoples attitudes to be either touchingly naive, or disingenuous. She gave the impression of being far too intelligent to be that naive, however.
And as much as she expressed an interest to learn about transpeople, and "engage" with us, it seems we've been here before a few years ago, and the feeling of deja-vu is quite strong.
I guess her future writings will tell. I'm sure she'll write about trans issues again in the future, but will that writing be an honest exploration into the issues that the many thousands of ordinary transpeople face, or will it be another sensationalist rant about the same usual suspect "regretters" who strangely often remain in their transitioned gender role while pursuing the doctors who "ruined their lives" for damages?
She did at least concede that I had a "good point" when I asked her if an "establishment" of alpha male psychiatrists would really get involved in some sort of coordinated scheme to convince transwomen to have perfectly healthy penises amputated, or was it more likely that, as men, they'd find the idea of penectomy to be something they would generally want to prevent people "electing" to do.