Susan Stryker opened and started to take apart various things Bindel has said in a rational and scientific way. She demonstrated several areas where Bindel was factually incorrect (such as her position that medical transsexualism was a model "invented" by heretonormative psychiatrists in the 1950s, when the work was actually pioneered 20 years earlier by a German Jewish sex researcher and gay-rights campaigner), and suggested that in holding trans people responsible for the attitudes of medical gatekeepers, Bindel was engaging in victim-blaming. She spoke about how Bindel's argument is not reasoned; rather it comes from a position of ideology and projection of her own feelings about sex-reassignment onto other people. Bindel, she said, fails to realise that other people may have different feelings and motivations to herself.
Bindel responded true to previous form, by ignoring anything inconvenient and restating her ideological agenda. She seemed rattled, and as with previous occasions when she's apparently been on the defensive (such as just after the Stonewall protest in November, when in her column she dismissed queer identities as being all about kinky sex and implied connections between bisexuality, "devil-worshipping" and something which may or may not have been bestiality), she started lashing out at her own side.
- On women's rights, Bindel betrayed her own ivory-tower detached privilege by claiming that the struggles of millions of ordinary women for equal pay and childcare "bored her" and "left her cold".
- On homosexuality, she reiterated and reinforced a stance she'd previously hinted at, claiming that it was "impossible" for there to be even a tiny part of biology behind same-sex attraction and that sexual "preference" (her word) was a choice. Apparently proving Stryker's accusations of projection accurate, she suggested that ex-gay style therapies actually work because she herself, were she so-minded, could go to a therapist and be turned heterosexual with "no problem".
- On transphobia, she dismissed her ideological allies who want to exclude trans women from women's space (she cited the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival in particular) as "moon worshippers". She dismissed sexual violence against trans women, one of the defining issues of trans feminism, with a simple, "men are raped too".
- On journalism, she said that after conversations with her mother, she realised that previous claims that she had not been a gender stereotypical child, claims on which she seems to base her idea that of she'd gone to the wrong psychiatrist, she could have ended up being talked into FtM transition, were in fact not true. Apparently she loved playing with Barbie dolls and had loads of them. She went on to say that she wasn't going to change her journalistic stance on this though, because the lie made for a better story.
Getting back to the debate, while Susan Stryker scored some good hits (at one point she drew attention to the fundamental impracticality of Bindel's holy grail, "an end to gender" by pointing out that Bindel was as heavily invested in gender as anyone else, echoing Frank Zappa's "Everybody in this room is wearing a uniform" by pointing out that she could walk down the street, see Bindel and immediately think, "Dyke"). Ultimately though, she tried to debate Bindel academically, and Bindel isn't about rational debate, she is about dogma.
Bindel brushed aside specific points she found inconvenient. As well as dismissing any possible biological involvement in gender identity and sexual orientation by stating that such things are "impossible", without explaining why, she waved such inconveniences as the scientific method and studies on sexual dimorphism in the brain out of the way, stating that she didn't believe them, or "wasn't convinced". Science doesn't work like that.
In response to a point from the floor by Stuart Lorimer, a senior psychiatrist with the Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic, that her claims about lax psychiatrists rushing confused people through sex reassignment couldn't be any further from the truth, and that trying to talk people out of being transsexual has a long history of being tried, and of not working, Bindel gave a hand wavy response that "some people" are rushed through, and that there is a "growing community of regretters".
I think that Stryker fell into the trap that biologists arguing with early creationists fell into. Like Bindel, the creationists were not interested in perusing the truth - it was unpalatable to them. Knowing they couldn't win the debate on an academically level playing field, they resorted to dogma. Modern creationists don't have any new arguments, but they have moved on and dress their dogma up in the language of science and rationality, to at least make it look like they're playing the game as long as you don't peer too closely. Bindel hasn't reached this level of sophistication with her debating style, and the result is painful to watch. I wonder if Stryker left thinking, "They dragged me all the way across the Atlantic for this?"
With more preparation, it would have been easy to highlight the massive hypocrisy and inhumanity in Bindel's position. Stryker admitted that until Stephen Whittle had contacted her, she'd known nothing about the Bindel/Stonewall controversy, and it showed. Bindel is keen on painting the whole thing as an overreaction to her 2004 "Cast of Grease" article about Kimberly Nixon, a survivor of rape who wanted to contribute to resources dealing with sexual violence against women by volunteering at a rape crisis centre in Vancouver. The horrible discrimination that Nixon faced from Vancouver Rape relief because she was a trans woman led her to question whether trans women who were victims of sexual violence could turn to resources which are supposed to be there to help all women. It's not just trans women who have this problem; Stryker made the point that such centres can be equally unfriendly to anyone who doesn't experience a particular white, middle-class, cisgendered version of womanhood.
Bindel always demonises Nixon whenever this comes up, and this time it was no different. She suggested that trans women should not expect to use generalised women's support resources, and that if we wanted support as survivors of sexual violence, trans women are on our own. With her "so are men" dismissal of the point that sexual violence against trans women is a huge problem (murder as a cause of death is out of all proportion for trans women as a demographic, and may actually be our main cause of death. Many trans women lack the relative privilege I enjoy and resort to dangerous sex work as the only way to fund their treatment. Sometimes, we are killed simply because the wrong man finds a trans woman attractive and lashes out in rage when he finds out she's trans), and this was exactly the same dismissal that Bindel used in the 2007 Heckler's debate. Her response was entirely predictable, entirely hypocritical, and yet Stryker apparently didn't see it coming.
On several occasions, Bindel stated that she "chose her battles" (remember, she's not interested in equal employment rights or childcare - those things don't affect her), but demanded to know what trans women were doing about sexual violence against all women. There are good responses to be made to this. Trans women are in general far more likely to be victims of sexual violence than cis women in similar circumstances. There is a long history of transphobic discrimination and exclusion from the women's movement when we try to engage (just ask Kimberly Nixon), and I know many trans women are frightened to participate in events such as anti-violence marches. Ironically, we fear violence against us from Bindel's own contingent within the women's movement.
Yet Bindel wants to know what we can do for her, and women like her, while all the time she uses her public platform to promote the attitudes which make violence against trans women seem acceptable. In the meantime, we are being raped and murdered out of all proportion to our numbers. After we've shown our commitment to the cause, even when we're told we're not wanted and threatened with violence by other women, what's the prize she's holding out for us in return? Is she going to stop being so utterly hateful about us from her privileged platform? Is she going to welcome us with open arms as sisters in struggle?
No - after all that, we get told we're not good enough to mix with the real women, and if we have a problem with being raped and murdered, why, we should just deal with that ourselves and not expect any outside help.
As I said above, this position just drips with inhumanity and hypocrisy. It wouldn't have taken much homework to predict that Bindel would probably say something like this, but instead of dismantling it, Stryker's response was more along the lines of, "Well, I've personally spent time knocking on doors to raise awareness of violence against women". Bindel then changed her accusation to "Trans women in the UK aren't doing anything about violence against women", which drew an audience response from a trans woman who has campaigned against violence against women in the UK's trades union movement. Bindel then changed her tune again - the people who had been mean to her on Facebook weren't doing anything about violence against women. Watching her make her argument squirm into new shapes when it could so easily have been decapitated was disappointing.
Bindel did partially clear one thing up though - previously she has expressed the apparently self-contradictory position of not supporting "ex-gay" style therapy under any circumstances, and saying that surgery for trans people should "not be available", and that we should be given "talking cures" instead. On Friday, she tried to square this circle by saying that she doesn't regard "curing" trans people as ex-gay style therapy (which she inaccurately refers to as "aversion therapy"). She also left further confusion by refusing to clarify whether she still thinks surgery should not be available, saying that "in some cases" ex-gay style therapy might be more appropriate. This gives wiggle room for her apologists, but a cynic might suggest the implication is that "some cases" get talked out of it, and those who prove stubbornly resistant to such brainwashing get nothing at all.
Finally, in a move that will likely get me off the Christmas card list for good, I want to talk about Stephen Whittle, who arranged the debate, and Christine Burns, who was very active in it. These two figures occupied a controversial position in the run up to the Stonewall protest, with Whittle being silent in public, while acknowledging having had closed-doors meetings with Ben Summerskill in private (such as the email he sent to my wife talking about the meeting he'd had with Summerskill under "Chatham House Rules", to which he added a request not to "tell the protesters"). Burns courted Bindel with her amiable chat over cucumber sandwiches podcast.
I've previously stated that I thought this debate was a very bad idea, because lends legitimacy to Bindel, gives her a platform and suggests that we owe her a justification of our existence. Whittle claimed he was not giving Bindel a platform, so it must have made him wince every time Bindel thanked him and Christine, during the debate on Friday, for "giving her a platform to express her views" (note not giving her the opportunity to listen to the other side - she was there to "express her views", as if we didn't already know what she's about). His pre-debate meanderings about the Stonewall protest, continuing on the theme of misrepresenting what it was most of us were actually angry about, had the air of "too little, too late", and served only to pour fresh petrol on flames of discontent which had been starting to die down. Meanwhile, Christine Burns and Julie Bindel seemed at points to be doing some bizarre double act:
Bindel, "Christine tells me off so nicely"
Burns, on the Stonewall protesters said that behaving with "Bad Manners" towards Bindel was "unforgivable"
The videocast-watching audience at home, "Get a room already"
I'll end where I came in. Nobody came out of this well. Stryker was dragged across the Atlantic to be the "straight-woman" in a cringeworthy double act, Bindel got to alienate a few more people, Burns and Whittle got to reassert their roles as focal points for the anger and disillusionment many in the grass roots trans community feel right now. Most of all, though, the trans community are the losers. Bindel gets new ammunition to write about how, on her crusade to eradicate our identity (at one point she tried to appropriate a "transgender" identity for herself, presumably because of her "regulation dyke" approach to her own gender presentation). Look forward to a divide-and-rule column in the Guardian soon about how she found "common ground" with the "more reasonable" members of the trans community, and uses that favoured tactic of the misogynist down the ages to silence the rest of us - that we're shrill.
christinaalley has posted her own analysis of the debate, which I think is excellently written and well worth a read.